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Updated: 50 min 22 sec ago

Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:26

Child trafficking and exploitation are again in the news after the Wall Street trader Jeffrey Epstein was charged on July 8 with sex trafficking crimes involving dozens of minors. Among the latest accusation is one by Jennifer Araoz, 32, who said that Epstein raped her when she was 15, and she had been working at his home giving him massages. After the incident, Araoz became profoundly depressed, had anxiety and panic attacks, and had to drop out of school shortly afterward. Her case is just one of the many cases being investigated against the New York financial adviser.

Children’s trafficking and exploitation is a widespread phenomenon that is causing enormous suffering throughout the world. It can take several forms such as forced labor, sexual exploitation and child begging, among other practices. It is estimated that 4 million women and girls worldwide are bought and sold each year either into marriage, prostitution or slavery. Over one million children enter the sex trade every year. Although most are girls, boys are also victims.

The extent of the problem

A report presented to the European Parliament showed that in Egypt criminal gangs kidnap African migrants and subject them to the worst kind of abuses, and reclaim steep ransoms from their families. It is estimated that between 25,000 to 30,000 people were trafficked in the Sinai Peninsula between 2009 and 2013.

In the United States, as many as 50,000 women and children from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe are brought to the country and forced to work as servants or prostitutes. The US government has prosecuted cases involving hundreds of victims. In other countries where this problem is frequent, the prosecution rate is lower.

Child sex tourism is an aspect of this worldwide phenomenon, and it is concentrated in Asia and Central and South America. According to UNICEF, 10,000 girls annually enter Thailand from neighboring countries and end up as sex workers. Thailand’s Health System Research Institute reports that children make up 40% of those working in prostitution in Thailand. And between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepali girls are transported across the border to India each year and end up in commercial sex work in Mumbai or New Delhi.

Commercial sexual exploitation

Although the greatest number of children forced to work as prostitutes is in Asia, Eastern European children from countries such as Russia, Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic, are increasingly unwilling victims.

As a social and pathological phenomenon, prostitution involving children does not show signs of abating. In many cases, not only individual traffickers but also organized groups kidnap children and sell them into prostitution, with border officials and police frequently serving as accomplices.

Because of their often undocumented status, language deficiencies and lack of legal protection, kidnapped children are particularly vulnerable in the hands of smugglers or corrupt and heartless government officials. “Trafficking is a very real threat to millions of children around the world, especially to those who have been driven from their homes and communities without adequate protection,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a growing problem worldwide. The reasons include increased trade across borders, poverty, unemployment, low status of girls, lack of education (including sex education) of children and their parents, inadequate legislation, poor law enforcement and the eroticization of children by the media, a phenomenon increasingly seen in industrialized countries.

Consequences of sexual exploitation of children

Social and cultural reasons force children into entering the sex trade in different regions of the world. In many cases, children from industrialized countries enter the sex trade because they are fleeing abusive homes. In countries of Eastern and Southern Africa, children who became orphans as a result of AIDS frequently lack the protection of caregivers and become, therefore, more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.

In South Asia, traditional practices that perpetuate the low status of women and girls in society fuel this problem. Children exploited sexually are prone to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. In addition, because of the conditions in which they live, children can become malnourished, and develop feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and depression.

Besides the moral and ethical implications, the impact that sexual exploitation has on children’s health and future development demand urgent attention. Throughout the world, many individuals and nongovernmental organizations are working intensely for the protection of children’s rights. Many times, their work puts them in conflict with governments and powerful interest groups.

Policies to protect children

There is general agreement that a victim-centered human rights approach is the best possible strategy to address this problem. Its focus should be punishing the exploiter and protecting and rehabilitating the child.

UNICEF has been particularly active in calling attention to children’s exploitation and in addressing its root causes. This organization provides economic support to families so that their children will not be at risk of sexual exploitation; it improves access to education, particularly for girls, and is a strong advocate for children’s rights.

The work of nongovernmental organizations and U.N. agencies should be complemented by governments’ actions. Those actions should include preventing sexual exploitation through social mobilization and awareness building, providing social services to exploited children and their families, and creating the legal framework and resources for psychosocial counseling and for the appropriate prosecution of perpetrators. The elimination of children’s exploitation is a daunting task, but one that is achievable if effective policies and programs are put in place.

Sylvan Shock Theater

Tue, 2019-07-16 14:54

Sylvan Shock Theater

The Woods Theater was one of several run-down Varieties joints in the old Chicago Loop, great junk barges in stone whose razing epitomized the Late Reagan Mesozoic c. 1989. Each one of these old palaces had a different Gilded Age motif: The Oriental was brightest and echoed Khayyam and the Grand Turk’s chessman; the United Artists sounded socialist (this is the city of Haymarket and May Day, after all); the Adelphi was pagan Attic; the Commodore inferred an upper class leisure (it was far more Royal). Make your own myths for the pedestrian-named Portage, Nortown and Milford. And lament the Tivoli, the Granada, the peerless New Regal on 79th and the still-standing still-empty Uptown.

The vigorous gaudiness of these places mocked the Old World’s past in a decayed mystique that did for inner city kids what Boys’ Own and summers in Egypt did for bourgeois scions. The Exotic can be local, too – dream, baby, dream and sometimes of dragons. The Woods was neon Holbein, dark as wine inside… abode of Mater Lachrymarum, dim light of Orca et Tentacles.

The word ‘Woods’ recalls Red Riding Hood, loup-garou, and Black Forest gloom, but it was actually named after its builder-patron in 1908. By the 1970s and ‘80s, the place really had gotten more and more Grünewald: the floors were fast and sticky, the façade a hotel for pigeons, and a continuous run of the cheapest films made for a flickering archive of hick Grand Guignol and Gialli all’italiana in dub.

These flicks were working-class dark rides for people escaping blazing midsummer to the tune of a half-running cool $1. Night train people, Irish vineyard types, people out of work or dodging the city’s major institutions – the lock up, high school, or day-labor line. Representatives of the barrio fraternities converged in the downtown grindhouses, clashing and riding colors, bringing girls, bringing knives and girls and teaching the rules of the game. In the back rows, a gin palace aristocracy improvised brilliantly over works such as The Crippled Masters for weeks on end. Each repeat showing was a unique performance part Road Runner and part Albert Ayler and never to be missed. After all, participatory theater was what the Woods had always been about – it was a vaudeville house as late as 1930.

The old theaters were a good place for an education if you wanted to be an All-rounder. Smith, Hegel and Marx appeared at the bottom of a triple bill, questioning every saturated print. Allow me to clarify: The question of ground-rent and private property was addressed in a film like Death House, which is obvious from the title; Legend of the Wolf Woman examined feminist issues, as well as the pop Social Darwinism of hacks like Ardrey and Morris; The Awakening considered imperialism and the revolt of the masses (this was a gentrified mummy epic, obviously produced to conceal surplus value). And Dracula’s Last Rites was a rumination on the Balkans and Victorian literature – though the internet tells us it was shot in New Jersey, the point is that there is a simulated everywhere.

You can get all this crap on home video these days, yet the essence of such marginal epos is a financial necessity closer to Victory Auto Wreckers than “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols”. More materially, Mafiosi must have lurked behind properties such as The Black Gestapo and the inscrutable Penitentiary III. This is a cinema of instantaneous disappearance which is hardly a cinema at all. It is far more a front or fence – a zone where the orphan product is projected over and over until it finally falls apart, whether anyone is watching or not.

These movies may possess a kind of poetry, yet they cannot be considered apart from their various cross-purposes. After all, who remembers his own suicide? The subject is absent. Today, cheapies like Alien Contamination return under duress for the gutter-art expert, but the late-born fetishists of our digital void completely miss the object – which was the place. Niche-marketed rather than experienced as a maddening distraction, tripe cinema washes up on the banks of Amazon laundered by short-sell fad and remastered prissiness. Once these pictures held the masses hostage by time, the Projectionists’ Union, and price controls – Pero ya no más. The aura of burnt-out celluloid, attacked by the drunks of the aisles, infected by muffled dialogue and mixed-up reels, cannot be reproduced in the anesthetized home-setting. There is nothing to burn. Every frame is robbed of any real presence, fossilized into a train wreck viewed from the safety of your own ironic inertia rather than glimpsed fleetingly in a forest of nunchucks and strangers.

But there were many ways these films could be truly life-changing: pregnancies accompanied the creaking of Don’t Look in the Basement; the potential of real snuff following a week of Snuff at the old State-Lake never waned; there were real rats for Willard at the Woods and the clap was the sixth deadly venom. But Death and its rubberized double both die in the home anti-social, shambling unnoticed past the panic room and the craft brew kegger. The second disappearance of these films is their last revival – fatality of the fetish’s fetish, the flying guillotine’s betrayal by subtitle.

Of course, we are not really talking about the cinema at all. The Woods was closed in order to break the assemblies of the poor downtown: blacks from the South Side, poor whites from Uptown, Little Village Mexicans, Puerto Ricans from Humboldt Park, and all of the above from Lathrop. The Commons haunt real estate developers and paranoid, klannish cops like the airy rapist of The Entity. The deco charm of the old neighborhood movie palace – and also the crash of 2008 – allowed a small number to survive by chance, only to become craft boutiques flogging 798 kinds of soap or psychoanalysis for Pekinese. Most have been utterly erased, leaving nothing to show they were ever here. Yet Bruce Lee had made many revolutionaries by the time the Woods and her sisters were demolished – so the final contribution of this most underground of all colleges still remains to be seen.

The polyester capitalists who had kept the theaters open for decades were eventually devoured by more ruthless competitors and changes in the international black market. Three or four moguls banded together to buy up the theaters in order to build the uniform chains that have turned the Chicago Loop into a macchiato-stained sequel to Logan’s Run. City sightlines lie like sniper’s crosses; montage has been rejected in favor of the continual surveillance pan. Whatever force is present is blind.

I watched the Woods being bulldozed, along with the striking brutalist Greyhound station with its avernal barroom and its boulevard of shoe-shine musicians making ends meet this side of free jazz. My heart shrunk to a bitter, ashen snake at the sound of the Caterpillars, working quick as if it were the Black Hills or Jenin. “Its echo returned, then, as though the trees themselves were crowding nearer, huddled together, closing over… pitying.” Many of us had gained our true education in these picture houses, learned world, flesh and devil… and about light/dark, how people talk and laugh and fight, shaolin tempers and cunning obsession, and above all – the terrain of class war. Old McVickers’ spook keeps his cup of ketchup soup in an eyeful of salt, heavy as undead water – tsup, tsup, sdrop.

The fluorescent school classroom is the enemy of shadow. The Woods was a scryer’s mirror to those shadows, the secret 37th chamber of Li Po under the sign of the Dancing Rat. Better to learn while young in dark places full of voices. Better to wait and think and find out how best to act.

Por mi compañero Ted Van Alst, who graduated State-Lake.

Old Chicago movie palace photos Chicago here, by the estimable Bruce Sharp.

 

 

The Fear Party

Mon, 2019-07-15 16:00

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The politics of fear led by President Trump attacking undocumented immigrants and religious minorities is pushing our political parties apart. Political divisions in the United States are increased when our two major political parties do not agree on what are the important issues.

Historically, Democratic and Republican parties essentially agreed on the important issues, but differed in the approach to dealing with them. There was still agreement about the top issues after President Obama was elected. In 2009, the electorate of both parties ranked terrorism, economy, and jobs among their top 5 priorities. Indeed, even 5 years ago, in 2014, the economy, jobs and social security were among the top 5 concerns of both parties.

The major separation occurred after President Trump’s election in 2016. Opinion poll data show that in 2019 Republicans prioritized fear issues—terrorism, immigration, and military—while Democrats focused more on institutional support issues such as health care, education, and the environment. These are significant differences, the one signaling concern with protection, safety and security, while the other is more future-oriented and enabling. Party members agree that things have changed recently. In 1987, only 25% of those surveyed said there was a great deal of difference between Republicans and Democrats. But by 2019, 54% gave this view.

This shift is largely due to the President’s weaponizing of fear, especially his rhetoric about murderous illegal immigrants and the pursuit of a multi-billion border wall to keep Americans safe, and keep his supporters fearful. Propaganda and false claims about immigrant criminality contribute to Republican supporters anger, but most anger is based on deep-seated fears, misinformation, and the more than 10,000 false and misleading statements by the President.

A constant discourse of fear—even if false– about pervasive immigrant crime, disease, and terrorism serve to keep Republican supporters on high fear-alert and direct their angst at the most popular threats. President Trump has skillfully directed the news cycle with tweets to keep people frightened and assuring them that he will protect them. Inflammatory tweets are repeated in regular news reports and amplified through social media, even if they are false. This shapes public opinion by emphasizing dangers—both real and imaginary—that his policies purport to fix, and that is the key: President Trump will save the people. Sociologist Barry Glassner, an authority on the culture of fear, states: “His [Trump’s] formula is very clean and uncomplicated: Be very, very afraid. And I am the cure.” According to an Administration official, “The American people are afraid.” “That’s what the President’s reflecting.”

President Trump demonizes immigrants, Muslims, and Middle-Eastern minorities as potential terrorists, while also devaluing—and even insulting—journalists, scientists, progressive policies, allies, and treaties that promote programs, approaches, and values affirming various social service and government actions toward health care, education, human rights, international relations, and scientific consensus. This has made Americans, and especially Republican backers, more afraid, and they focus on different issues than Democrats. And there are indications that many Republican supporters feel righteously entitled to pull further away from common issues. For example, in 2019, most Republicans (58%) wanted their party to move in an even more conservative direction, while 53% of Democratic voters preferred that their party should become more moderate. The differences in partisan world views has been noted by others:

If you think the world is dangerous, safety is always the No. 1 concern. When it comes to physical safety, letting your guard down against adversaries could be disastrous. If you think the world is safe, however, discriminating against groups that have generally been down the racial, gender, or sexual orientation hierarchy is the real sin.

Illuminating the dark rhetoric that separates us is a start to focusing on common issues.

 

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:58

Photograph Source: Gobierno de Chile – CC BY 3.0 CL

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s report on Venezuela echoes the US government’s talking points, which are designed to terminate the two-decade-old Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. The report fails to acknowledge Venezuela’s manifest accomplishments or even recognize victims of US-backed right-wing violence in Venezuela. The US economic war against Venezuela, US threats of a “military option,” and opposition violence are treated in the Bachelet report as figments of the imagination, “alleged internal and external threats.”

Meanwhile, the US government brazenly brags on an official State Department website:

“The pressure campaign is working. The financial sanctions we have placed on the Venezuelan Government has forced it to begin becoming in default, both on sovereign and PDVSA, its oil company’s, debt. And what we are seeing…is a total economic collapse in Venezuela. So our policy is working, our strategy is working and we’re going to keep it on the Venezuelans.”

Bachelet’s UN report one-sidedly assigns blame to the victim. Activist and researcher Nino Pagliccia called the report “faulty by design.”

Reaction to the Bachelet report

The New York Times and the other usual cheerleaders for regime change in Venezuela predictably cheered the report, which came out a day before its scheduled July 5 release date.

The government of Venezuela, having been issued an advanced copy of the Bachelet report, immediately delivered a 70-point bill of particulars in rebuttal. Human rights organizations representing victims of the right-wing violence in Venezuela had met with Bachelet and provided documentation of abuses but their stories were omitted. This included the mother of an Afro-descendent son who had been caught in a passing opposition demonstration, doused with gasoline, and burned alive. Spain, however, just arrested a suspect in that crime who was hiding in Spain.

The day following issuance of the report, representatives of Russia, China, Turkey, Belarus, Myanmar, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia on the UN Human Rights Council repudiated the Bachelet report. According to the Cuban representative, the report “represents a campaign to destabilize the democratic process.” The Nicaraguan representative at the Human Rights Council session condemned the unilateral and illegal measures imposed by the US that were egregiously ignored in the Bachelet report, adding these very measures have a “negative impact on the promotion and protection of human rights” in Venezuela. The Bolivian representative called for the cessation of the US unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela, which are causing great economic loss and misery for the people there.

A little over a month prior to the issuance of the Bachelet report, the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity launched a letter campaign to Ms. Bachelet and the Secretary General of the UN calling for the intervention by the High Commissioner to put an end to the US blockade has kept lifesaving medicines out of Venezuela. Bachelet did not respond to that request. The International Committee warns:

“It is extremely serious that the Bachelet report does not contribute to the dialogue for peace, instead it tilts the scales in favor of the aggressor while ignoring the damage the Empire has done to the people.”

UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas issued his report on Venezuela to the same UN Human Rights Council last September. He recommended that the US economic sanctions against Venezuela be investigated by the International Criminal Court as possible crimes against humanity. A former secretary of the Human Rights Council and a specialist in international law, de Zayas “believes his report has been ignored because it goes against the popular narrative that Venezuela needs regime change.”

In reference to the Bachelet report, de Zayas commented it “is fundamentally flawed and disappointing…a missed opportunity.” Noting that the “unprofessional” Bachelet report “gives scarce attention to the central problem – the financial blockade and sanctions that cause so much suffering and death,” de Zayas concludes: “Venezuela’s problems can all be solved, but first the criminal US sanctions must be lifted.”

Ricardo Arturo Salgado Bonilla is critical of Bachelet for not visiting his native Honduras, where the government is suppressing human rights. Even the Washington-aligned Human Rights Watch recognizes that “impunity for human rights abuses remain the norm” in the US client state of Honduras, which “has the highest murder rate in the world.” Bonilla observes that international agencies like the United Nations “have become colonial agencies at the service of the United States.”

The palest of the pinkies in the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The lead author of the human rights report, Michelle Bachelet, is a member of the Chilean Socialist Party and a pediatrician. Her father Alberto Bachelet was a Chilean general, who opposed the US-backed coup there in 1973. He was arrested shortly after the coup, tortured, and died while incarcerated. Before assuming the post of UN High Commission for Human Rights, Bachelet served twice as president of Chile (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) as part of the so-called Pink Tide of left leaning governments. Hers was arguably the palest of the pinkies. But given her pedigree, it is still jarring to see her carrying Trump’s water.

An insight into Bachelet’s ostensible about-face regarding US regime-change operations comes from Miguel d’Escoto, who was president of the UN General Assembly (2008-2009). After his term in office, d’Escoto described in an interview “all kinds of pressure tactics and arm-twisting” by powerful interests at the UN. His former deputy chief Sofía Clark added in reference to the US: “They have many other ways, insidious ways, of coming in and controlling sometimes the real autonomy of agencies here.”

Former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council de Zayas further explained, referring to Bachelet, “a high commissioner is not independent and is subject to political pressures.” Describing his own experience in the Human Rights Council, he related: “I endured pre mission, during mission and post mission mobbing.”

As Pasqualina Curcio Curcio recounts, the UN High Commissioner office has a history of reflecting the narrative dictated by the US. In 2011, then High Commissioner Navy Pally issued a report based on “patchy and hard to verify” information. The information turned out to be false and led to the military invasion in Libya under the excuse of a so-called humanitarian intervention.

Causes and consequences of the situation in Venezuela

With just three short paragraphs of the 16-page Bachelet report on the crippling US sanctions against Venezuela, the impact of the unilateral coercive measures is essentially dismissed, placing the onus on the Maduro government. Instead of calling for a cessation on the illegal and inhuman measures, the report tells the Venezuelans to “to adopt structural economic reforms” to adapt to the situation.

The Bachelet report finds “violations of the right to health resulted from the (Venezuelan) Government’s failure to fulfil its core obligations” but fails to recognize the impact of the US blockade preventing vital medicines from reaching Venezuela. The report similarly accuses the Venezuelan government of not ensuring the “right of food” without recognizing the elephant in the room – the US sanctions.

Prof. Steve Ellner of Venezuela’s University of the East paints a more balanced picture of the causes of the current situation in Venezuela:

“Five major explanations have been put forward: the unrelenting hostility of internal and external adversaries, leading to international sanctions and threats of military action; the plummeting of international oil prices, aggravated by the government’s failure to diversify production and sever dependency on petroleum; mistaken policies that discouraged private investments; the mismanagement and incompetence of the Maduro government; and socialism’s inherent contradictions and unsustainability.”

Dismissing the fifth explanation about the failure of socialism as simply ideological, he concludes like a good academician that all four of the remaining explanations have some degree of validity without teasing out the prime cause. Ellner adds that whatever the geometry of blame may be, the human rights solution in Venezuela must entail the immediate cessation of the US sanctions and regime-change activities.

Economists Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University address the chicken-or-the-egg question of the role of US sanctions in Venezuela’s economic meltdown. Comparing, among other factors, the trajectory of oil production in Venezuela and Colombia pre- and post-sanctions, they conclusively demonstrate that the US measures, which they characterize as “collective punishment,” have been the decisive factor.

The Bachelet report takes the US government’s view of the impact of the sanctions: “The economy of Venezuela, particularly its oil industry and food production systems, were already in crisis before any sectoral sanctions were imposed.”

In her inimitable way, blogger Caitlin Johnstone tweeted:

“People who claim tens of thousands of Venezuelans would be starving to death even without US economic warfare are like a lawyer arguing ‘Your honor my client did indeed shoot the victim, but I intend to convince the jury that he would have died anyway.’”

Ignoring the siege on Venezuela while reporting the reaction

Unlike the US and its allies, which recognize the self-proclaimed Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela, the UN recognizes the government of President Nicolás Maduro as legitimate. Bachelet as an emissary of the UN, while hyper-critical of the Venezuelan institutions of state, met with the Venezuelan president, attorney general, ombudsman, and members of the Constituent Assembly, implicitly affirming their legitimacy. Bachelet also met with the US surrogate Guaidó, but only in his capacity as president of the National Assembly.

Venezuelan state actors have been responsible for human rights abuses as in any state. However, the government headed by Nicolás Maduro has itself arrested violators and adjudicates people for violations. The Bachelet report, while documenting instances of abuse, does not establish a systematic state policy of violations even with its flawed methodology of primarily relying on testimonies of persons outside of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan state is under siege by the US and its international allies and by the US-allied far-right domestic opposition in Venezuela, who call for a US military invasion of their own country. The Bachelet report by primarily condemning the Venezuelan state’s response to the siege, but rendering the siege itself virtually invisible, in effect provides justification for the US-backed regime change operation.

A more factual accounting of the current situation in Venezuela

A more factual accounting of the current situation in Venezuela than the Bachelet report would have included (cf. Task Force on the Americas):

1) What amounts to a war by the US government on Venezuela is motivated by the accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution, not its faults. The Venezuelans have sought to create a more inclusive polity to empower poor and working people and to redistribute national wealth. In addition, Venezuela has promoted regional integration and independence from the US based on respecting national sovereignty in a multi-polar world.

2) The US government is not interested in or motivated by human rights or democracy. The US has a long history of supporting coups (e.g., Venezuela in 2002, Haiti in 2004, Honduras in 2009) and the most repressive states throughout Latin American (e.g., Honduras and Colombia) and, indeed, the world (e.g., Saudi Arabia).

3) The actions of the US government are explicitly designed to prevent the correction of Venezuela’s supposed faults. Even the humanitarian CLAP program, bringing basic food items to people in need, has been targeted.

4) If Venezuela’s supposed faults were primarily the cause of the current crisis, the US government would not have had to impose its economic war to attack the economy. The economic war constitutes an illegal, unilateral, and coercive form of collective punishment against the population, which has caused great misery and an estimated 40,000 deaths.

5) In fact, US officials have explicitly stated that they are interested in having dominion over the vast resources of Venezuela, including the world’s largest petroleum reserves.

“The time for dialogue is never over”

The deceiving human rights narrative of the UN report lends itself to a justification for trying to overthrow a sovereign state and its democratically elected government. Were the UN to genuinely promote a just solution to the current conflict, their human rights report should have promoted the following elements (cf. Venezuela Solidarity Campaign):

+ Venezuela’s right to national sovereignty, rejecting external intervention.

+ Respect for international law.

+ The immediate and unconditional lifting of all economic and financial sanctions, which are illegal under international law and have criminal consequences.

The Bachelet report, which one-sidedly only addresses what the Maduro government must do to rectify the situation, does not include dialogue among its concluding “recommendations.” However, Ms. Bachelet herself calls for a process of dialogue to resolve differences, which is key.

Four days after the issuance of the Bachelet report, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley stated that her government was ready to host dialogue efforts between the Venezuelan government and the opposition brokered by the government of Norway. In contrast to the US position and echoed by its surrogate Guaidó, the Caribbean leader said that “Barbados along with other CARICOM governments, have made it absolutely clear that the time for dialogue is never over and that as a zone of peace, we would want to see a very peaceful resolution to the problems in Venezuela.”

Pyongyang on the Potomac

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:56

Photograph Source: White House – Public Domain

When Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shook hands on June 30 at the line dividing the two Koreas, the pictures that appeared on front pages all over the world depicted two very different leaders. Trump is a tall, 73-year-old white man who leads the world’s most powerful democracy. Kim is a short, plump, 35-year-old Korean who heads up the world’s most notorious non-democracy. They look like the Laurel and Hardy or the Penn and Teller of geopolitics.

Appearances can be deceptive. Beyond their superficial differences, the two leaders share a great deal in common. In fact, their underlying similarities have helped cement an unlikely friendship.

But what is beneficial for international peace is ominous for the future of American democracy.

Back in 2011, Polish politician Lech Kaczynski looked longingly at how the right wing had taken over Hungary. Viktor Orban was running roughshod over Hungarian democracy, rewriting constitutions, controlling the press, suppressing civil society. Kaczynski said that he couldn’t wait to remake Warsaw, the capital of Poland, as a “Budapest on the Vistula.” When his party won both the presidency and a parliamentary majority, Kaczynski set about doing just that.

Donald Trump likewise looks longingly at the authoritarian states of Asia. He has remarked that the United States should experiment with China’s system of a “president for life.” In a host of other ways, Trump has emulated North Korea. Indeed, especially after his July 4 fusion of the personal, the patriotic, and the military, Trump seems to want nothing less than to create a Pyongyang on the Potomac.

He’s the Decider

The handshake at the Demilitarized Zone on June 30 was both an excellent PR stunt and a potentially important way to advance peace on the Korean peninsula.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un know a good photo op when they see one. They also have advisors whispering in their ears about the risks of rapprochement with the great devil across the sea. Yet they have established a rapport on the basis of their mutual love of self-aggrandizement. For better or worse, that’s often the currency of geopolitics. It’s certainly best to spend it on peace, not war.

For any progress to be made on improving U.S.-North Korean relations, however, the Trump administration has to move away from its all-or-nothing approach to negotiations. The administration has made some noises in the direction of the so-called small deal that would represent mutual compromises on the way to the goal of denuclearization, the elimination of economic sanctions against North Korea, and a peace agreement to replace the Korean War armistice.

Any deals of this sort, however, require patience and competence, two qualities sorely lacking in a president given to volatile mood swings and an administration that has gutted its chief institution of diplomacy, the State Department.

In both North Korea and the United States, the two leaders are increasingly the sole deciders. The North Korean political sphere has a veneer of collective leadership through the Politburo and the larger Workers Party, not to mention input from the army and the intelligence services. But in reality, nothing of significance goes forward without Kim Jong Un’s say so. In the United States, meanwhile, Trump’s “brain trust” promulgates the unitary executive theory, according to which the president controls the entire executive branch. Of course, Trump doesn’t need a theory when his gut feeling is sufficient. Never one to pay much attention to other people, Trump routinely ignores the advice of top officials and experts.

Both leaders have attempted to concentrate power in their own hands. Kim did so by simply killing his uncle Jang Song-Thaek and a host of other top officials (including the vice minister of the army, the ministers of education and agriculture, and several ambassadors).

Trump has resorted to less violent means but the result has been the same. The Trump administration has presided over a vast reduction of personnel in key U.S. agencies, like the Census Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency. He’d like to get rid of the entire Office of Personnel Management. The purpose behind these cuts is not just to save money. It’s to eliminate potential hubs of resistance to the Trump administration’s plans and to Trump himself.

Trump has also increasingly relied on “acting” heads of agencies, including the Pentagon and Homeland Security. The president argues that this gives him greater “flexibility.” In fact, it allows him to prevent cabinet members from establishing much in the way of institutional legitimacy. Trump was not happy with the somewhat more independent thinking of Jim Mattis at the Pentagon or Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department.

One way that Trump has centralized power has been to fire his underlings and keep the administration in a state of flux. Trump “has the record for White House staff turnover, for cabinet turnover and now for the highest turnover within a single department,” according to Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of Brookings. Of course, some of the resignations have been because of incompetence or corruption. But high turnover is a tactic that Trump uses to keep appointees in line and diminish the power of the bureaucracy.

This kind of approach is well-suited to destroying things: a nuclear agreement with Iran, détente with Cuba, multiple efforts to address climate change. But actually creating something — like a treaty with North Korea — may prove beyond the capacity of an administration determined to reduce its own capacity.

Executive Orders

The difference between North Korea and the United States is that the former is a democracy in name alone. Despite Trump’s best efforts, he still comes up against what remains of democratic governance in the United States.

Consider Trump’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census in 2020. The ploy is a naked attempt by the Republican Party to rig future elections. Don’t take my word for it. A top Republican operative, Thomas Hofeller, left behind evidence of just such a strategy on his computer when he died. According to The New York Times:

Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.

Even without considering Hofeller’s computer files, the Supreme Court decided by a slim majority that the administration was lying about its rationale for including the citizenship question on the census. Just as in the administration’s earlier attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act, it was Chief Justice John Roberts, an otherwise very conservative judge, who represented the swing vote.

But none of that matters to Trump. He has instructed Attorney General William Barr to come up with another rationale for the inclusion of the question, which will be no doubt as duplicitous as the first one that the Supreme Court rejected. And if that fails, Trump will bypass the Supreme Court — and the constitution — simply by issuing an executive order.

It’s not the first time that Trump has ruled by decree. He has issued more than 100 of them through the middle of May. Many are uncontroversial or just ceremonial. Others, like his Muslim travel ban or declaration of a state of emergency at the border, have provoked fierce opposition.

It’s one thing to try and bypass Congress. Other presidents have done that. It’s another to try and bypass the Supreme Court in such a blatant manner. That could very well throw the country into a constitutional crisis. Such a crisis would not be an unintended consequence of Trump’s attempt to create a semi-permanent Republican majority. It’s a deliberate effort to scupper the checks and balances of democracy.

Parallel Styles

Parades in Pyongyang feature displays of military might, patriotic bombast, and scores of cheering followers of the leader’s personality cult.

And now, in Trump’s America, so do celebrations of July 4.

Commentators expected a self-serving Independence Day speech from the president. So, when he instead offered a rambling review of American history, they gave him passing marks.

But the speech provided the same kind of distortions you might expect in North Korea. Trump urged young people to join the army, though he did everything he could to avoid the Vietnam War. He gave a shout-out to Harriet Tubman but has done his best to delay Tubman’s replacement of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. He praised the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, though his administration has done its utmost to reverse the gains of those struggles.

By devoting most of his speech to America’s military history, he turned the holiday into a celebration of martial spirit, an apt mirror of North Korea’s military-first doctrine. The tanks on the ground and the fighter jets overhead punctuated this point. The hardware also supplied a powerful subliminal message: if he deems it necessary, this president will bring the military out onto the streets of Washington, DC to secure the country’s freedom from all those who threaten it, whether they work for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or write for The New York Times.

The military-first approach is not the only similarity in style between Trump and Kim Jong Un. In North Korea, nepotism is the very structure of governance, with the Kim family controlling the state apparatus from the country’s inception. Today, Kim Jong Un’s sister serves as a top advisor and emissary. Similarly, Trump has installed his daughter and son-in-law as top advisors, and he imagines that Ivanka will become president one day. Perhaps even one day soon, as Bob Cesca explains at Salon:

In fact, there’s a rumor currently circulating among Republican circles in Washington in which Trump suddenly declines the nomination sometime next summer, presumably for health reasons, then lobbies the convention delegates to toss their votes to Ivanka as his rightful heir and the 2020 nominee.

Then there’s the personal enrichment. Kim has a fortune of $5 billion at his disposal, with plenty of resources socked away in overseas accounts. There is no emoluments clause in North Korea’s constitution: the leader can use his office to extract as much wealth from the system as he pleases.

Trump’s ambitions are only somewhat more modest. For instance, he doubled his hotel income from 2016 to 2017, netting nearly $30 million, and he’s made more money at places like Mar-a-Lago from elevated fees. He even hopes to make money from his presidential library. But Trump probably hopes that presidential immunity will protect him from any future charges of financial impropriety, which would save him a great deal more money in the long run.

Back to That Handshake

As a relatively young man at the top of a rigidly hierarchical system, Kim Jong Un no doubt expects a long career ahead of him. But if U.S. sanctions continue to squeeze the North Korean economy, he will have an increasingly difficult task of delivering the goods to the elite, the sliver of middle class, and the struggling majority of the population. He needs a helping hand from the first American president willing to step onto his territory. Trump’s successor will not likely be so generous.

Donald Trump’s tenure is considerably more fragile. He’s no spring chicken. Many people in Congress are itching to impeach him. And plenty of voters can’t wait to eject him from office in 2020. But Trump knows that his political fate, not to mention his overall legacy, rests on his ability to shake things up and produce unexpected results – like a peace treaty with North Korea. But that depends on Kim Jong Un’s willingness to compromise.

The handshake across the DMZ might have united unusual bedfellows. But these two leaders also need each other for their own political survival. That’s good news for the potential reunification of the Korean peninsula. But the mirror-imaging that is taking place, the ongoing construction of Pyongyang on the Potomac, is bad news for transparency, good governance, human rights, and economic justice.

Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:56

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

With the slew of reporting on Jeffrey Epstein’s recent arrest on federal charges for sex trafficking of minors, many sordid details of the money manager’s wrongdoings have been revealed. However, few reports have focused on the fact that Epstein has funded some of the most famous scientists in the world. If we look closely at his role as a science philanthropist, Epstein’s more pernicious political significance becomes clear and gives us all reason to reflect on the values of the Western civilization in crisis that his worldview represents.

Epstein’s Science Philanthropy Empire

The Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation was established in 2000 with the stated mission of “supporting innovation in science and education.” In 2003, the Foundation pledged a $30 million donation to establish the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University, where Epstein had already been a “long-time, low-profile” donor. This graduate department studies the “fundamental mathematical principles that guide evolution” and, according to Epstein’s website, also investigates topics such as “population structure, prelife, eusociality, [and] evolutionary economics.”

Despite pressure to return the gift after Epstein’s initial charges for soliciting sex from prostitutes in 2006, Harvard refused to do so. Former president Derek C. Bok weighed in, questioning why “Harvard should have an obligation to investigate each donor and impose detailed moral standards.” After orchestrating a plea deal in 2008 with the help of Harvard law professor and well-known apologist for Israel’s war crimes, Alan Dershowitz, Epstein maintained his friendly relationship with Harvard, where he continued to sit on the board of the Harvard Society of Mind, Brain, and Behavior. As of 2014, he was also “actively involved” in the Santa Fe Institute, the Theoretical Biology Initiative at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and the Quantum Gravity Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Besides his Ivy League connections in the United States, Epstein has recently poured money into Artificial Intelligence research abroad, namely the OpenCog research group in Hong Kong and MicroPsi Project 2 in Berlin. Forbes reported in 2013 that this AI research was targeted at the development of “radical emotional software,” which has been subsequently used to create a robot called Little Sophia designed “to introduce STEM, coding and AI to children – especially girls.” The developer of this robot, Ben Goertzel, was funded multiple times by Epstein between 2001 and 2003 before initiating the OpenCog project in 2013 that led to the creation of Little Sophia this year, again with Epstein’s support.

In addition to these larger projects, Epstein has funded a laundry list of the world’s most famous scientists including Stephen Hawking, Marvin Minsky, Eric Lander, Stephen Kosslyn, Martin Nowak, George Church, and Nobel laureate physicists Gerard ’t Hooft, David Gross, and Frank Wilczek. The full extent of his donations is not known since the Foundation avoided making its financial details public despite pressure from the New York Attorney General’s Office in 2015. In addition to his much publicized interactions with politicians, Epstein has taken a personal interest in many of these scientists, prompting one leading Harvard researcher to proclaim that Epstein “changed my life.”

Indeed, New York Magazine reported in 2002 that Epstein “brings a trophy-hunter’s zeal to his collection of scientists.” He flew Hawking to his personal island for a conference with 20 more of the world’s top physicists, spoke with Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Martin Nowak, once a week on the phone and flew him around the country for lectures, and went personally to Harvard phycologist Stephen Kosslyn’s lab to observe experiments conducted on Tibetan monks, the latter whom Epstein reportedly described as “so stupid.”

The Reactionary Politics of Scientism

Epstein’s diverse science philanthropy credentials may seem arbitrary to highlight, but, upon closer scrutiny, it is clear that his donations served a consistent purpose of upholding Western political and scientific dominance over the world.

Epstein subscribes to a scientistic worldview, which sees not politics, economics, or religion as a driving force of history but, rather, evolution. He spoke fondly of E.O. Wilson’s famous evolutionary determinist theory of “sociobiology” in 2002 and founded the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics the following year. What is the cause of Epstein’s attraction to evolutionary thinking about human social development? In a word: money.

Epstein stated, “If we can figure out how termites come together, then we may be able to better understand the underlying principles of market behavior – and make big money.” For Epstein, markets are the product of human creation but, instead, evolutionally hard-wired systems that can be understood in terms of biology. This is all, of course, malarkey, but demonstrates that financial capitalists like Epstein see science not as a way of expanding human knowledge for the good of all; rather, it is, at best, an outlet for bogus theorizing about the so-called natural laws of the economy and, at worst, an unabashed intellectual justification for the wealth of key market players like himself.

This brings us to Epstein’s generous funding of top AI research scientists, with whom he has enjoyed close personal relationships. In 2013, he was reported to fund “the first humanoids” and “first free thinking robots,” which are designed to move beyond robots as “clunky machines that relied on deterministic algorithmic pathways” toward emotional human-like creatures with “responsive facial expressions, synthesized rubber skin, called frubber and delicate features.”

One of the recent products of this “radical emotional software” was the Little Sophia robot marketed to girls “ages 7-13.” It is worth asking why a convicted pedophile is funding the development of robots for young girls that promise to go on the market at the end of this year. Epstein has clearly not understood what it means to be human, yet he believes that AI scientists like self-described “hard-core transhumanist” Ben Goertzel—whose precursor to Little Sophia, Sophia, was granted Saudi citizenship in 2017—will pave the way to a new and better world by bypassing the human.

But why was Saudi citizenship given to an AI robot made possible in part by Epstein’s funding? And why does Epstein have a photograph of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, alongside pictures of Bill Clinton and Woody Allen, in his $56 million New York City mansion?

These are reminders that scientific research and technological development are not separate from politics. Indeed, Epstein has not only served on the boards of numerous science institutes, but also on those of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. The Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921 to advance US foreign policy interests in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Later on, the Council’s study groups developed the Cold War doctrine of “containment” and laid the foundations for NATO.

The Trilateral Commission was founded by David Rockefeller in 1973 to advance the interests of North America, Western Europe, and Japan. In the words of a 1975 document produced for the Commission, it was concerned about a lapse in “the indoctrination of the young” and called for “more moderation in democracy” in the wake of the revolutionary social movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Just as Saudi Arabia has functioned as a bulwark of American imperialism in the Middle East, which explains Epstein’s veneration of the Crown Prince, Hong Kong has also served as an outpost of Western financial interests that leech off the Chinese mainland. It is no surprise that Epstein chose to fund a group of all Western AI scientists in this buffer zone against mainland China’s immanent triumph over the United States in AI research.

In addition to his science philanthropy foundation, Epstein also ran a tax-exempt charity founded in 2012, which funneled money to “organizations around the world that seek to celebrate the United States of America and the American Ideals.” His recipients of choice turned out to include multiple Democratic Party politicians as well as liberal causes such as the Clinton Foundation and “The Friends of Elton John.”

From his deep connection with Harvard, a center of elite scientific research in service of American interests, to his funding of researchers in the former Cold War ideological battleground of Berlin, to the channeling research funds to the Western financial safe haven of Hong Kong, Epstein has consistently put his funding where his interests lie: in the maintenance of Western dominance at key strategic centers of empire.

Epstein’s Arrest and the Crisis of Western Civilization

In 1946, African-American writer and revolutionary W.E.B. Du Bois predicted what he termed “the collapse of Europe.” He wrote that this collapse is “astounding” because “[w]e have long believed without argument or reflection that the cultural status of the people of Europe and of North America represented not only the best civilization which the world had ever known, but also a goal of human effort destined to go on from triumph to triumph until the perfect accomplishment was reached.”

Western science was a large reason behind the world’s “boundless faith” in Euro-American civilization. But rather than unite humanity, Du Bois notes that “every device of science was used” to divide the peoples of the world by means of a “scientific” justification for colonialism and white supremacy. While it was this science that propelled European dominance into the twentieth century, it soon proved to be “hollow, contradictory, and fatal” in the face of anti-colonial uprisings and the rupture of Europe itself from economic crisis and war.

Despite many challenges to its dominance from socialist states and colonized peoples in the twentieth century, the West managed to reconfigure and reassert itself after World War II and yet again after the Cold War. The 1990s were then witness to the boom of the dot-com bubble that united technology and financial speculation in the United States to form what some at the time called the “New Economy.”

Today, scientific research in genetics, neuroscience, and Artificial Intelligence promises the creation of a new and improved “transhuman” subject unencumbered by the concerns of material existence, moral choices, and spiritual strivings that have occupied humanity for millennia.

But what happens when the actions of one of the most passionate funders of this cutting-edge research “shock the conscience”? It is easy to write off Epstein as a sociopathic deviant, an exception. The mainstream media is now ready to do just that with an encouraging push from the opportunistic Democratic Party establishment, which ignores ample Democratic involvement with Epstein and feigns offence at his crimes in hopes of getting at Trump’s Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, or, better yet, Trump himself, in order to reestablish the liberal status quo of American imperial exceptionalism.

It is much harder, however, to reflect on the fact that it is figures like Epstein who are most invested in the scientific and technological progress that so many well-adjusted, liberal Americans uncritically support. Although Epstein’s actions are especially deplorable, his Epicurean scientistic worldview is one that is held by many others as a default. The fact that a man like Epstein subscribes to such a widespread epistemology and funds what is ostensibly the scientific research and technological development of the future should give us all pause.

This is not to say that science and technology are irredeemable, but it is to say that neither is an inherent Good to be worshiped no matter the cost. Under capitalism, whether they like it or not, scientists are at the behest of their funders, and only research that can be used by the ruling class to further its own interests garners consistent financial support.

Epstein is simply an extreme example of this unquestioned set-up, which is forced down the throat of countries like Salvador Allende’s Chile that attempt to chart their own scientific and technological path. Only by joining the struggle against capitalism and white supremacy will scientists be able to realize their full potential and see their research used for the upliftment of humanity as opposed to its increased subjugation.

As thinkers including Du Bois, Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Rabindranath Tagore warned us years ago, science without humanity and technology without morality portend civilizational collapse. Epstein’s case is but one example of this process, which is well underway in Europe and America. Without a turn to the best traditions of the civilizations of Africa and Asia, and a revival of the dissident traditions of the West, there are likely to be many more Jeffrey Epsteins and, even worse, a world that looks more and more like one created in their image.

Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:54

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of State – Public Domain

Just for a moment, let’s forget poor old Kim Darroch. Let’s jump a couple of days in front of this news story. Let me tell you how his utter humiliation and sacrifice at the hands of Trump – and with the connivance of the man who will probably be the next British prime minister – will affect the Middle East.

Let’s go first to Riyadh where, just off Al Khawabi street, stands the British embassy, wherein labours Simon Collis, our man in Saudi Arabia. He’s previously served in Bahrain, Tunis, Amman, Dubai, Qatar, Damascus and Baghdad. In other words, he’s an old Arab hand. He’s also a Muslim convert and the first British ambassador to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

But right now, Collis is going to be thinking very carefully when he reports back to the Foreign Office about the Kingdom upon which he must report fully, fairly and truthfully for his government. For all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten his reputation if The Leaker gets his hands on the diplomatic bag from Riyadh.

For it’s Collis who must report on the antics of Mohammad bin Salman, the author of the blood-soaked Yemen war and, according to the CIA, the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.

I don’t presume to guess what Collis says about this very dangerous man. But he must surely have told his masters that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is – at the very least – uniquely dysfunctional, incompetent and inept. Or words to that effect. This would apply to both the Yemen slaughter and the chopping-up of Khashoggi.

Much worse has been said about bin Salman, and I doubt if he’d throw a Trump-like hissy-fit if he learned that Simon Collis had written so unkindly of him. But I doubt if a leak of the ambassador’s “dipreps” would garner many more invitations to the Royal Palace. It would not ease the passage of the next tranche of weapons which we plan to sell the plucky little prince for possible air raids on Yemen.

Collis wouldn’t be dismembered. But a prince’s anger can embrace an ambassador or two, and at 63 – two years before retirement – Collis’ professional life would come to an abrupt halt.

Now let’s fly up the northern coast of the Gulf and across Sinai to Cairo, take the half-hour taxi journey into town and gaze upon the magnificent Nileside embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Here, in Cairo’s Garden City suburb, Sir Geoffrey Adams, our man in Egypt, political descendant of Evelyn Baring and Myles Lampson, composes his regular reports to the Foreign Office. His dispatches must contain the latest and most terrifying reports of the police state which field marshal-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi runs with cruel efficiency, after deposing the government of the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.

Sir Geoffrey must have reported the death of Morsi in his trial cage last month. And he must have told the Foreign Office his views on the ruthless president, of Sisi’s Pharaonic dreams of a new Cairo, his useless “enlargement” of the Suez Canal, his outrageous incarceration of 60,000 political prisoners, his state police torturers, and the corrupt financial basis of the Egyptian army’s wealth.

At the very least, Sir Geoffrey – an old Etonian, another old Middle East hand (Tehran, Jeddah and Jerusalem) and at 62 only three years from retirement – must have described Sisi, president with a Saddam-like 97.08 per cent of the vote, as uniquely incompetent, dysfunctional and inept. Or words to that effect. And if he did – and if his eloquent “diprep” to London fell into the hands of The Leaker – I don’t think the vain and over-sensitive field marshal-president would think kindly of Sir Geoffrey.

Indeed, I do suspect that in Cairo he would at once find himself frozen out of all government invitations. The Egyptian media, so lickspittle that television presenters dressed up in military costume when Sisi staged his coup against Morsi, would, I fear, tear Sir Geoffrey to pieces. And home, I fear, he’d have to go, with or without having the rug pulled from beneath him by his cowardly prime minister-to-be.

And now a trip north across the Mediterranean to the bleak hilltops of Ankara where Sir Dominick Chilcott KCMG, a former deputy ambassador in Washington and private secretary to two foreign secretaries (Rifkind and Cook), must regularly report on the dictatorial and equally Pharaonic dreamer who banged up 50,000 political prisoners after the attempted coup against him in July 2016, including thousands of judges, teachers, academics and journalists.

Only slightly dented by his loss of Istanbul in recent elections, Recep Tayip Erdogan’s grasp of the Turkish economy is slipping, yet his police state appears as strong as ever, his plan to build a massive new canal between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara overshadowing even Sisi’s “new” Suez Canal.

Erdogan treats critics like stinging nettles and cuts them down, impulsively cursing the European Union and Russia (until Putin threatened to destroy Turkey’s economy), and rules from an Ottoman Palace whose very chairs are painted in gold.

Sir Dominick must surely have described Erdogan as uniquely dysfunctional, incompetent and inept. Or words to that effect. But The Leaker would quickly put a stop to such nonsense on the part of our man in Turkey. Erdogan would have not the slightest hesitation in giving Sir Dominick his marching orders – whether or not the bounder who must surely become his prime minister back home chucks him under the only tram in Istanbul.

We could travel further in the Middle East – to Iran, for example, where Nicholas Hopton (diplomatic alma maters: Rabat, Sanaa, Qatar) – enjoys the lawns of his residence in the cool summer of north Tehran, but whose regular dispatches to the Foreign Office must occasionally have described the entire Islamic Republic as uniquely incompetent, dysfunctional and inept. Or words to that effect.

And then – yet again – let us imagine that The Leaker strikes once more. In an immensely proud nation whose sense of betrayal by the West over its nuclear deal – a betrayal all too real – Iran’s supreme leader would surely have no hesitation in ostracising Hopton and encouraging him to take the next available flight to London out of the Imam Khomeini International Airport (economy class, I suppose, for this would be Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit Britain).

Our ambassadors do not always get it right, of course. One of Hopton’s predecessors woefully supported the Shah in 1979 long after his overthrow was inevitable. One of Collis’ predecessors ended up successfully persuading a British civil servant to abandon the fraud enquiry into the UK’s most valuable arms deal with Saudi Arabia. But by and large, they try to tell the truth. And let’s remember this.

For Sir Kim Darroch’s mistake was not to call Trump’s White House incompetent, dysfunctional and inept. The error of the British ambassador to Washington was not that his comparatively mild reproof of the US administration was leaked. It had nothing to do with whether Darroch was – or was not – “a very stupid guy” or a “pompous fool”, to quote the inept and dysfunctional and faction-riven US president. Besides, Arab diplomats have often told me they find UK ambassadors pompous.

No, poor Sir Kim’s act of original sin – his ultimate, unspeakable and unforgivable deed of wickedness and iniquity, his very malevolence-made-manifest – was to tell the truth.

This, and this alone, is what lies behind the utterly childish, nay infantile, “crisis” now enveloping the would-be British prime minister Johnson – bombastic enough, but too cowardly to stand by Kim’s “right to report” – and the Tories and the Brexit party and the UK civil service and the whole circus of babies now clowning Britain out of Europe.

This is serious stuff. So let us re-write Darroch’s ambassadorial report to the UK government. Let us suppose – for just a moment of fantasy – that Her Majesty’s man in Washington had penned an encomium of such flattering, Boris-like, Farage-inducing, May-grovelling praise that Trump responded by tweeting his admiration for so eloquent a diplomat.

The US president would surely have urged Britain to extend Kim’s retirement date sine die, would have told Boris Johnson to sign him up as the next UK foreign secretary, or even – let us not get carried away with realism when it comes to the White House – a possible future British prime minister.

And if The Leaker decided to scatter the reports of Messers Collis, Adams, Chilcott and Hopton around the Daily Mailnewsroom, how much happier would be the final years of their diplomatic careers if they called their local Middle East autocrats “good guys” – Trump’s own description of Sisi – whose democratic credentials, while slow to be established, were leading their countries into the broad sunlit uplands of freedom and justice? You can see where this kind of thing can go.

Now I don’t believe British diplomats would write that kind of garbage, even if a future prime minister might encourage them to do so. After all, if you sail into power on an ocean of lies, you might as well let the lies go global afterwards. For Sir Kim’s betrayal – and that is what it was – sends a message to every British diplomat: don’t criticise the dictators or their cops or their torturers. Stick to the cocktail circuit. And whatever you do, don’t tell the truth. That would be in line with a Boris Johnson premiership.

So I guess our men in the Middle East will just have to go on telling the truth. But to avoid The Leaker, they should perhaps, after writing each “diprep”’, seal the document in a paper envelope, and, their report (typed, not printed from a laptop) tucked into a zipped-up inner pocket, take a flight to London (again, economy class) and a taxi to the Foreign Office. And here they might – if they trust the new foreign secretary – insist on handing the envelope, by hand and in person, to their boss. And, if Boris Johnson is prime minister, they should make sure the paper doesn’t later drift across the road to No 10.

Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:53

Cue the shots, take the snaps: US President Donald Trump was back entertaining his fetish with firm handshakes proclaiming the making of history in the last round of discussions with Kim Jong-un. The press were, despite periodic attacks of bafflement, ever obliging. The meeting of Trump with the leader of the DPRK was deemed historic, because everything the president does these says has to be, by definition, shatteringly historic. Respective handshaking took place across the demarcation line of North and South Korea before Trump “briefly crossed into North Korea, a symbolic milestone,” noted the BBC.

Kim, in turn, crossed into South Korea alongside Trump, cheeks bunched and aglow: “I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future.” An hour-long discussion followed in the Freedom House. At one point, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in joined the gathering for a collegial cameo. Again “unprecedented”, came the observations.

Trump’s diplomatic fake book is an untidy compilation of zigs and zags; amidst the lack of neatness lies a scratchy pattern. Each accommodating approach must come with its selective targets of incoherent demonization. Every hand shake on one side of the diplomatic ledger must be accompanied by the cold shoulder on the other, if not a good deal of spiked bile. There is Iran, which serves the purpose for potential military engagement and cartoon gangster pose, and China, which supplies the Trump administration with a target for hard bargaining.

As each day goes by, military digs and pokes are being directed at Tehran by US officials now more accustomed to poking tongues than using them. This is far from a bright move, but serves the object of brinkmanship Trump has managed to cultivate in Washington.

US policy on that front is that of the bull acting in disregard of the precious china. The china, for one, involved adherence by Iran to the restrictive nuclear agreement that saw the destruction of its plutonium reactor and an opening up to the peering eyes of inspectors for a period ranging between ten and twenty-five years. Economic losses would be made up by a more liberal trade regime with European powers. But Trump, consistently with his campaign promises on redrafting, if not tossing various agreements out altogether, was determined to find a marketable enemy. Evidence was less important than necessity, however confused.

The confusion towards Iran can be gathered by a stance that suggests criticism without sense or context; what is needed is the dangerous power, and any necessary accusation will be made to fit. A White House statement on July 1 reads like a patient after electric shock treatment, more than a touch addled.

It is holed with regrets and scolding references, striking a catty note. “It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level.” Then the head scratching moment follows. “There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.” Trumpland allows such plasticine-like flexibility: terms can be violated before they come into existence.

It also leads to such grand theatrical gestures as the President’s claim that the loss of 150 Iranian lives in US military strikes would have been disproportionate measures undertaken in response to the downing of a US drone. Good sense prevailed, so he says, leading to them being called off at the last moment. As Zvi Bar’el writing in Haaretz noted sourly, “Such a humanitarian explanation would have been heartwarming if it hadn’t come from the president still arming the Saudi military that’s killing thousands in Yemen.”

Far better, in the supposedly more reserved approach of the administration, to strangle the nation with the noose of sanctions, a form of economic warfare that is guaranteed to add to the butcher’s bill while doing little to influence the leaders. (Economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs claimed in an April paper for the Center for Economic and Policy Research that an estimated 40,000 deaths were caused by US sanctions imposed on Venezuela.)

Then there is China, whose relationship is one that moves between boiling anger and simmer filled resentment. Beijing is being given pride of place as the future enemy of the US imperium. The People’s Republic is being beefed up to the status of ultimate threat.

On July 3, an open letter organised by Michael D. Swaine and signed by some 150 former officials and scholars insisted that Beijing was not “an economic enemy or an existential national security threat that must be confronted in every sphere.” Beijing replacing the United States “as the global leader” was a matter of exaggeration. “Most other countries have no interest in such an outcome, and it is not clear that Beijing itself sees this goal as necessary or feasible.”

The anti-China squad is ballooning in popularity on the Hill and elsewhere, making such reserved scepticism indigestible for the soft-headed members of the imperium. Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made his enthusiasm for Trump’s position clear in May. “Strength is the only way to win with China,” he tweeted. The naïve assumption of turning Beijing’s authoritarians into liberal capitalists has been replaced by another: that US power is indefinitely enduring.

The central theme to Trump’s fake book can be said to be this: to conserve a cosy position with one authoritarian regime necessitates a punitive approach to another. A calculus for the voter comes into play: you can only fool the electors some of the time. To that end, much has been leveraged on the anti-China sentiment and chest thumping before the Iranian mullahs. Just as much has been expended on the idea of Trump the peace maker in Northeast Asia, a situation that has yielded more ceremony than substance. If Trump can keep his weapons holstered, cool heads will prevail. Now that would be historic.

 

The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:53

The June jobs report showed the economy created 224,000 jobs in the month, a sharp increase from the revised level of 72,000 reported for May. With considerable evidence that the economy is slowing, and the ADP report showing the economy created just 102,000 jobs in June, the jobs growth number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was much higher than most analysts had expected.

It led the markets to reverse their expectations of a July cut in the federal funds rate. With average job growth of 171,000 over the last three months, the thinking was that the Fed did not need to provide any additional boost to growth. A bit deeper look suggests that additional stimulus may still be a good idea.

First, it is important to remember where the labor market is. The June unemployment rate of 3.7 percent certainly looks very good relative to almost any other point in the last fifty years.

However, if we look at employment rates (EPOP) for prime age workers (ages 25 to 54), the labor market does not look so great. The June EPOP was 79.7 percent. That is down from a pre-recession peak of 80.3 percent. It is far below the 2000 peak of 81.9 percent. It’s even down from the 79.9 percent peak for the recovery hit in January and February of this year.

The weak EPOP suggests that the economy has room to expand. There have been repeated efforts throughout this recovery to attribute low EPOPs to workers’ reduced interest in working, primarily among young men. This story does not work well for two reasons.

First EPOPs were down pretty much across the board, so a story that young men have lost interest in working could not explain lower EPOPs among older men and women of all ages. The other reason the reduced interest in working story didn’t fit is that EPOPs of young men (ages 25 to 34) have risen considerably as the recovery strengthened, going from just over 82 percent in 2013, when this argument was first being put forward, to a peak of more than 86 percent last year.

Weak demand easily explains the pattern we saw, a lack of interest in working among young men does not.  It is worth noting that EPOPs among young men have fallen by 1.2 percentage points from the peak hit in November, so perhaps those claiming a lack of interest in working were just premature. (That’s a joke.)  Anyhow, prime age EPOPs certainly indicate there is room for further expansion of the labor market.

Other measures also do not indicate a labor market hitting its limits. Usually when the labor market gets very tight we see an increase in the length of the workweek, as employers struggling to find workers try to get more work out of the workers that they already have. We don’t see this story at all, the average workweek has fluctuated between 34.4 and 34.5 hours for the last four years, and it is down from peaks of 34.6 hours hit in late 2014 and early 2015.

In fact, the index of aggregate hours is up less than 0.3 percent since January. If we held hours per worker constant, this would translate into a 0.7 percent annual rate of job growth, or roughly 90,000 per month. It would be difficult to view this as excessive.

The job opening rate was at 4.7 percent in April, the most recent data available, but that is down slightly from 4.8 percent in several months last year and earlier this year. The quit rate in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey is 2.3 percent, the same as it’s been since June of last year. This is relatively high for the survey, but still below the 2.5 percent peak in January of 2001. (The survey only began in December of 2000.) In the Current Population Survey, the share of unemployment due to voluntary quits jumped to 14.7 percent in June. This is also relatively high, but below the peak of 15.4 percent reached in April of 2000.

But the Fed’s biggest concern in determining interest rate policy is whether there are fears of increasing inflation. Here is where the case for a rate cut is strongest. Rather than accelerating, the pace of wage growth has actually been slowing slightly.

The year over year rate of wage growth peaked at 3.4 percent in February of this year. Since then it has edged down modestly to 3.1 percent. The story looks even worse if we take a shorter picture. The annualized rate of wage growth from the first quarter of 2019 to the second quarter was just 2.7 percent. Rather than picking up steam in response to a tight labor market, it seems that wage growth is actually slowing.

Turning directly to inflation measures, there is no evidence of inflation accelerating from rates that are still below the Fed’s targets. The overall CPI is up just 1.8 percent over the last year. The core CPI is up 2.0 percent. The core index also shows some evidence of slowing. The annualized rate of inflation in the core, comparing the last three months (March, April, and May) with the prior three months (December, January, February), was just 1.7 percent.

Even the little inflation seen in the CPI is largely due to housing costs, an area that is little affected by wage costs. The core index, excluding shelter (mostly rent and owners’ equivalent rent) was up just 1.0 percent over the last year. Comparing the last three months with the prior three months, the annualized rate for the core index, excluding shelter, was just 0.1 percent.

We get the same story if we look at the core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator, which is the index for which the Fed targets 2.0 percent inflation. The year over year rate of inflation in the core PCE has drifted down from 1.8 percent in January to 1.6 percent in April and May. Again, there is zero evidence of accelerating inflation.

As many have pointed out, if the Fed is to maintain credibility on a 2.0 percent inflation target as an average, then there must be periods in which the inflation rate is somewhat above 2.0 percent. This means that it should actively desire some increase in the inflation rate.

It is also important to note on this point that there will be a recession at some point. This fact is relevant in this context, since we know that a recession will put downward pressure on the rate of inflation. If we were to enter a recession with an inflation rate under 2.0 percent, then we will be even further below the Fed’s target when the full effect of the recession is felt.

Of course a low inflation rate also makes it more difficult for the Fed to boost the economy by lowering interest rates, since we want a large negative real interest rate, which is not really possible if the inflation rate is very low. For this reason, a higher inflation rate provides us with more protection going into a recession.

In short, even with the higher than expected June jobs numbers there is still a solid case for further cuts in the federal funds rate. Insofar as there is a problem with inflation it is that it is too low, not that it is too high. Given this reality, there is not any obvious downside to cuts in the interest rate that should lead to more rapid job growth, and hopefully more rapid wage growth, which may lead to some uptick in the inflation rate. Lowering rates is a move that offers clear benefits, with no obvious cost.

This article first appeared on Dean Baker’s Patreon page.

De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:52

Imperialism is getting something for nothing. It is a strategy to obtain other countries’ surplus without playing a productive role, but by creating an extractive rentier system. An imperialist power obliges other countries to pay tribute. Of course, America doesn’t come right out and tell other countries, “You have to pay us tribute,” like Roman emperors told the provinces they governed. U.S. diplomats simply insist that other countries invest their balance-of-payments inflows and official central-bank savings in US dollars, especially U.S. Treasury IOUs. This Treasury-bill standard turns the global monetary and financial system into a tributary system. That is what pays the costs of U.S. military spending, including its 800 military bases throughout the world.

I’m Bonnie Faulkner. Today on Guns and Butter, Dr. Michael Hudson. Today’s show: De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire. Dr. Hudson is a financial economist and historian. He is President of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trend, a Wall Street Financial Analyst and Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. His most recent books include “… and Forgive them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year”; Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy, and J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception. He is also author of Trade, Development and Foreign Debt, among many other books. We return today to a discussion of Dr. Hudson’s seminal 1972 book, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire, a critique of how the United States exploited foreign economies through the IMF and World Bank. We discuss how the United States has dominated the world economically both as the world’s largest creditor, and then later as the world’s largest debtor, and take a look at the coming demise of dollar domination.

Bonnie Faulkner: Michael Hudson, welcome back.

Michael Hudson: It’s good to be back, Bonnie.

Bonnie Faulkner: Why is President Trump insisting that the Federal Reserve lower interest rates? I thought they were already extremely low. And if they did go lower, what effect would this have?

Michael Hudson: Interest rates are historically low, and they have been kept low in order to try to keep providing cheap money for speculators to buy stocks and bonds to make arbitrage gains. Speculators can borrow at a low rate of interest to buy a stock yielding dividends (and also making capital gains) at a higher rate of return, or by buying a bond such as corporate junk bonds that pay higher interest rates, and keep the difference. In short, low interest rates are a form of financial engineering.

Trump wants interest rates to be low in order to inflate the housing market and the stock market even more, as if that is an index of the real economy, not just the financial sector that is wrapped around the economy of production and consumption. Beyond this domestic concern, Trump imagines that if you keep interest rates lower than those of Europe, the dollar’s exchange rate will decline. He thinks that this will make U.S. exports more competitive with foreign products.

Trump is criticizing the Federal Reserve for not keeping interest rates even lower than those of Europe. He he thinks that if interest rates are low, there will be an outflow of capital from this country to buy foreign stocks and bonds that pay a higher interest rate. This financial outflow will lower the dollar’s exchange rate. He believes that this will increase the chance of rebuilding America’s manufacturing exports.

This is the great neoliberal miscalculation. It also is the basis for IMF models.

How low interest rates lower the dollar’s exchange rate, raising import prices

Trump’s guiding idea is that lowering the dollar’s value will lower the cost of labor to employers. That’s what happens when a currency is devalued. Depreciation doesn’t lower costs that have a common worldwide price. There’s a common price for oil in the world, a common price of raw materials, and pretty much a common price for capital and credit. So the main thing that’s devalued when you push a currency down is the price of labor and its working conditions.

Workers are squeezed when a currency’s exchange rate falls, because they have to pay more for goods they import. If the dollar goes down against the Chinese yen or European currency, Chinese imports are going to cost more in dollars. So will European imports. That is the logic behind “beggar my neighbor” devaluations.

How much more foreign imports will cost depends on how far the dollar goes down. But even if it plunges by 50 percent, even if the dollar were to become a junk currency like the Argentinian or other Latin American currencies, that cannot really increase American manufacturing exports, because not much American labor works in factories anymore. Workers drive cabs and work in the service industry or for medical insurance companies. Even if you give American workers in manufacturing companies all their clothing and food for nothing, they still can’t compete with foreign countries, because their housing costs are so high, their medical insurance is so high and their taxes are so high that they’re priced out of world markets. So it won’t help much if the dollar goes down by 1 percent, 10 percent or even 20 percent. If you don’t have factories going and if you don’t have a transportation system, a power supply, and if our public utilities and infrastructure are being run down, there’s nothing that currency manipulation can do to enable America to quickly rebuild its manufacturing export industries.

American parent companies have already moved their factories abroad. They have given up on America. As long as Trump or his successors refrain from changing that system – as long as he gives tax advantages for companies to move abroad – there’s nothing he can do that will restore industry here. But he’s picked up International Monetary Fund’s junk economics, the neoliberal patter talk that it’s given to Latin America pretending that if a country just lowers its exchange rate more, it will be able to lower its wages and living standards, paying labor less in hard-currency terms until at some point, when its poverty and austerity get deep enough, it will become more competitive.

That hasn’t worked for fifty years in Latin America. It hasn’t worked for other countries either, and it never worked in the United States. The 19th-century American School of Political Economy developed the Economy of High Wages doctrine. (I review this in my book on America’s Protectionist Takeoff: 1815-1914.) They recognized that if you pay labor more, it’s more productive, it can afford a better education and it works better. That’s why high-wage labor can undersell low-wage “pauper” labor. Trump is therefore a century behind the times in picking up the IMF austerity idea that you can just devalue the currency and reduce labor’s wages and living standards in international terms to make the economy more profitable and somehow “work your way out of debt.”

What currency depreciation does do when the dollar is devalued is to enable Wall Street firms to borrow 1% and to buy European currencies and bonds yielding 3 percent or 4 percent or 5 percent, or stocks yielding even more. The guiding idea is to do what Japan did in 1990: have very low interest rates to increase what’s called the carry trade. The carry trade is borrowing at a low interest rate and buying bonds yielding a higher rate, making an arbitrage gain on the interest-rate differential. So Trump is creating an arbitrage opportunity for Wall Street investors. He pretends that this is pro-labor and can rebuild manufacturing. But it only helps hollow out the U.S. economy, sending money to other countries to build them up instead of investing in ourselves. So the effect of what Trump’s doing is the opposite of what he says he’s doing.

Bonnie Faulkner: Exactly. What is the point of driving investment into foreign countries, away from the United States?

Michael Hudson: If you’re an investor, you can make more money by dismantling the U.S. economy. You can borrow at 1 percent and buy a bond or a stock that yields 3 or 4 percent. That’s called arbitrage. It’s a financial free lunch. The effect of this free lunch, as you say, is to build up foreign economies or at least their financial markets while undercutting your own. Finance is cosmopolitan, not patriotic. It doesn’t really care where it makes money. Finance goes wherever the rate of return is highest. That’s the dynamic that has been de-industrializing the United States over the past forty years.

Bonnie Faulkner: From what you’re saying, it sounds like Donald Trump’s policies are leading to doing to the United States what the IMF and World Bank have traditionally done to foreign economies.

Michael Hudson: That’s what happens when you devalue. The financial sector will see that interest rates are going down, so the dollar’s exchange rate also will decline. Investors will move their money (or will borrow) into euros, gold or Japanese yen or Swiss francs whose exchange rate is expected to rise. So you’re offering a financial arbitrage and capital gain for investors who speculate in foreign currencies. You’re also hollowing out the economy here, and squeezing real wage levels and living standards.

Why devaluation will not help re-industrialize the U.S. economy

Bonnie Faulkner: Do you think that Donald Trump understands what he’s doing?

Michael Hudson: I don’t think he understands. I think he has an oversimplified view of how the world works. He thinks that if we devalue the dollar, we can undersell China and Europe. But you can only undersell them if you have car-making factories available. If you don’t have a factory, you’re not going to be able to undersell foreign carmakers no matter how low the dollar goes. And if you don’t have a set of computer manufacturing factories and local suppliers already in the United States, you’re not going to have production capacity able to undersell China. Most of all, you need public infrastructure and affordable housing, education and health care. So Trump’s view is a fantasy. It’s like saying, “If we had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs, if we had some eggs.” It leaves the causes of America’s de-industrialization out of account.

If we had unemployed car makers, computer makers and other manufacturers here – factories that were idle in an economy that was pretty competitive – then devaluation might make some sense. But Americans are not just a bit uncompetitive. The housing costs in America are so high, the medical and health-insurance costs, the taxes and wage withholding on labor and prices for basic infrastructure that there’s no way that we can compete with foreign countries simply by currency manipulation.

Since 1980 the U.S. economy has been made very high-cost. Yet there also has been a huge squeeze on labor, by raising the prices it has to pay for basic needs. Even if wages go up, people can’t afford to live as well as they did thirty years ago. A radical restructuring is needed in order to restore a full-employment industrial economy. You need de-privatization, you have to break up monopolies, you need the kind of economy and economic reform that America had under Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. I don’t see that happening.

Bonnie Faulkner: Do you think that Donald Trump was installed as U.S. president to oversee the bankruptcy of the United States and dismantling the U.S. Empire?

Michael Hudson: Nobody installed him; he installed himself. I don’t think most people expected him to win. If you look at the odds that professional bookies and oddsmakers gave from the time he announced his candidacy, most people thought that sleepy Jeb Bush would get the nomination, and that Bush then would lose to Hillary. So there were indeed attempts an attempt to install Hillary or Bush. But nobody tried to install Trump. He made an end run around them, by straight talk, humor and celebrityhood.

He didn’t have advisors that he would listen to, because he’s always been a one-man show. And he doesn’t really know what he’s doing economically. He knows how to cheat people, victimize suppliers, and how to make money in real estate simply by not paying suppliers, and by borrowing from banks and not paying them. But he has no idea that you can’t run an economy this way. Being a real estate mafioso isn’t the same thing as running a whole economy. Trump has no idea and I don’t think anyone knows how to control him, except maybe Fox News.

Wall Street vs. the “real” economy: Which turns out to be more real?

Bonnie Faulkner: What is going on with the ruling class in the United States? Does anybody in its ranks know how to run an economy?

Michael Hudson: The problem is that running an economy to help the people and raise living standards, and even to lower the cost of living and doing business, means not running it to help Wall Street. If someone knows how to run an economy, the financial sector wants to keep them out of any public office. High finance is short-term, not long-term. It plays the hit-and-run game, not the much harder task of creating a framework for tangible economic growth.

You can do one of two things: You can help labor or you can help Wall Street. If running the economy means helping labor and improving living standards by giving better medical care, this is going to be at the expense of the financial sector and short-term corporate profits. So the last thing you want to do is have somebody run the economy for its own prosperity instead of for Wall Street’s purpose.

At issue is who’s going to do the planning. Will it be elected public officials in the government, or Wall Street? Wall Street’s public relations office is the University of Chicago. It claims that a free market is one where rich Wall Street investors and the financial class run an economy. But if you let people vote and democratically elect governments to regulate, that’s called “interference” in a free market. This is the fight that Trump has against China. He wants to tell it to let the banks run China and have a free market. He says that China has grown rich over the last fifty years by unfair means, with government help and public enterprise. In effect, he wants Chinese to be as threatened and insecure as American workers. They should get rid of their public transportation. They should get rid of their subsidies. They should let a lot of their companies go bankrupt so that Americans can buy them. They should have the same kind of free market that has wrecked the US economy.

China doesn’t want that kind of a free market, of course. It does have a market economy. It is actually much like the United States was in its 19th-century industrial takeoff, with strong government subsidy.

U.S. changing monetary strategy, from payments-surplus to deficit status

Bonnie Faulkner: In your seminal work from 1972, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire, you write: “Whereas US domination of the world economy stemmed from 1920 through 1960 from its creditor position, its control since the 1960s has stemmed from is debtor position. Not only have the tables been turned, but US diplomats have found that their leverage as the world’s major debtor economy is fully as strong as that which formerly had reflected its net creditor position.” This sounds counter-intuitive. Could you break it down? Let’s start with 1920 through 1960. How was the United States able to dominate the world economy from its creditor position?

Michael Hudson: The U.S. creditor position really began after World War I, based on the money it lent to the Allies before it joined the war. When the war ended, U.S. diplomats told England and France to pay us for the arms they had bought early on. But in the past, for centuries, the victors usually forgave all the debts among each other once a war was over. For the first time, America insisted that the Allies pay for the military support it had sold them before joining them.

The European Allies were pretty devastated by the war, and they turned to Germany and insisted on reparations that quickly bankrupted Germany. German bankrupted its economy trying to pay England and France, which simply sent it on to pay the United States. Their balance of payments was in deficit, and their currencies were going down. American investors saw an opportunity to buy up their industry. Gold was the measure of power, the backing for domestic money and credit and hence capital investment.

America was much more productive, not having suffered war damage here. Between the end of World War II and 1950 when the Korean War broke out, America accumulated over 75 percent of the world’s monetary gold. The United States had heavy agricultural exports, growing industrial exports, and enough money to buy up the leading industries of Europe and Latin America and other countries.

But beginning in 1950 with the Korean War, the U.S. balance of payments moved into deficit for the first time. It got even worse when President Eisenhower decided that America had to support French colonialism in Southeast Asia, in French Indochina – Vietnam and Laos. By the time the Vietnam War escalated in the 1960s, the dollar was running large balance-of-payments deficits. Every week on Wall Street we would watch the gold supply go down, losing gold to countries that weren’t at war, like France and Germany. They were cashing in the excess dollars that were being spent by the U.S. military. By the 1960s it became clear that America was on a trajectory to run out of gold within a decade because of this overseas war spending.

It finally did, by August 1971when President Nixon stopped selling bold on the London exchange and the price was allowed to soar far above $35 an ounce. The U.S. balance-of-payments was still running a deep deficit because of the fighting in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, creating a permanent balance-of-payments deficit. The private sector was just in balance during the 1950s and 1960s. The entire deficit was military.

When America went off gold, people began to wonder what was going to happen. Many predicted an economic doomsday. It was losing its ability to rule the world through gold. But what I realized (and was the first to publish) was that if countries no longer could buy and hold gold in their international reserves, what were they going to hold? There was only one asset that they could hold: U.S. Government securities, that is, Treasury bonds.

A Treasury bond is a loan to the US Treasury. When a foreign central bank buys a bond, it finances the domestic U.S. budget deficit. So the balance of payments deficit ends up financing the domestic budget deficit.

The result is a circular flow of military spending recycled by foreign central banks. After 1971 the United States continued to spend abroad militarily, and in 1974 the OPEC countries quadrupled the price of oil. At that time the United States told Saudi Arabia that it could charge whatever it wanted for its oil, but it had to recycle all its net dollar earnings. The Saudis were not to buy gold. The Saudis were told that it would be an act of war if they didn’t recycle into the American economy the dollars they received for their oil exports. They were encouraged to buy U.S. Treasury bonds but, could also buy other U.S. bonds and stocks to help push up the stock and bond markets here while supporting the dollar.

The United States kept its own gold stock, while wanting the rest of the world to hold its savings in the form of loans to the United States. So the dollar didn’t go down. Other countries that were receiving dollars simply recycled them to buy U.S. financial securities.

What would have happened if they wouldn’t have done this? Let’s say you’re Germany, France or Japan. If you don’t recycle your dollar receipts back to the U.S. economy, your currency is going to go up. Dollar inflows from export sales are being converted into your currency, increasing its exchange rate. But by buying U.S. bonds or stocks, bid the price of dollars back up against your own currency.

So, when the United States runs a balance-of-payments deficit under conditions where other countries keep their foreign reserves in dollars, the effect is for other countries to keep their currencies’ exchange rates stable – mainly by lending to the U.S. government. That gives the United States a free ride. It can encircle the world with military bases, and the dollars that this costs are returned to the United States.

Imagine writing IOUs when you go out to spend at a store or restaurant – but your IOUs are never going to be collected! The store might say, “We have an IOU from Bonnie Faulkner. Let’s keep it as our savings. Instead of putting it in the bank or asking for payment in real money, we’re just going to keep collecting these IOUs from Bonnie Faulkner.” Corporations call such IOUs and trade credit “receivables.” Now, suppose you went on a spending spree and gave the store a billion dollars’ worth of your IOUs. There’s no way that you could pay off this billion dollars. In that case the stores receiving these IOUs would say, “Well, we really don’t want to foreclose on Bonnie, because we know that she can’t pay. We’d lose the value of receivables on the asset side of our balance sheet – all these IOUs that we’ve been collecting.

That’s essentially what foreign countries are saying about their buildup of dollars. The U.S. position is, in effect, that we are not going to repay any foreign country the dollar debt we owe them. As Treasury Secretary John Connolly said, “It’s our dollars, but your problem.” Other countries have to pay us or else we’ll bomb them. The military dimension to this arrangement is the U.S. position that it would be an act of war if other countries don’t keep spending their export earnings on loans or U.S. stocks and bonds.

That’s what makes the United States the “exceptional country.” The value of our currency is based on other countries’ savings. The money they save has to be held in the form of dollars or securities that we’re never going to repay, even if we could.

This is a huge free ride. You’d think that Donald Trump would want to keep it going. But he claims that China is manipulating its currency by recycling its dollars into loans to the U.S. Treasury. What does he mean by that? China is earning a lot of dollars by exports its goods to the United States. What does it do with these dollars? It tried to do what America did with Europe and South America: It tried to buy American companies. But the United States blocked it from doing this, on specious national security grounds. The government claims that our national security would be threatened if China would buy a chain of filling stations, as it wanted to do in California. The United States thus has a double standard, claiming that it is threatened if China buys any company, but insisting on its right to buy out the commanding heights of foreign economies with its electronic dollar credit.

That leaves China with only one option: It can buy U.S. Treasury bonds, lending its export earnings to the U.S. Treasury.

Trump is now driving other countries out of the dollar orbit

China now realizes that the U.S. Treasury isn’t going to repay. Even if it wanted to recycle its export earnings into Treasury bonds or U.S. stocks and bonds or real estate, Donald Trump now is saying that he doesn’t want China to support the dollar’s exchange rate (and keep its own exchange rate down) by buying U.S. assets. We’re telling China not to do what we’ve told other countries to do for the past forty years: to buy U.S. securities. Trump accuses countries of artificial currency manipulation if they keep their foreign reserves in dollars. So he’s telling them, and specifically China, to get rid of their dollar holdings, not to buy dollars with their export earnings anymore.

So China is buying gold. Russia also is buying gold and much of the world is now in the process of reverting to the gold-exchange standard (meaning that gold is used to settle international payments imbalances, but is not connected to domestic money creation). Countries realize that there’s a great advantage of the gold-exchange standard: There’s only a limited amount of gold in the world’s central banks. This means that any country that wages war is going to run such a large balance-of-payments deficit that it’s going to lose its gold reserves. So reviving the role of gold may prevent any country, including the United States, from going to war and suffering a military deficit.

The irony is that Trump is breaking up America’s financial free ride – its policy of monetary imperialism – by telling counties to stop recycling their dollar inflows. They’ve got to de-dollarize their economies.

The effect is to make these economies independent of the United States. Trump already has announced that we won’t hire Chinese in our IT sectors or let Chinese study subjects at university that might enable them to rival us. So our economies are going to separate.

In effect, Trump has said that if we can’t win in a trade deal, if we can’t make other countries lose and become more dependent on U.S. suppliers and monopoly pricing, then we’re not going to sign an agreement. This stance is driving not only China but Russia and even Europe and other countries all out of the U.S. orbit. The end result is going to be that the United States is going to be isolated, without being able to manufacture like it used to do. It’s dismantled its manufacturing. So how will it get by?

Some population figures were released a week ago showing the middle of America is emptying out. The population is moving from the Midwestern and mountain states to the East and the West coasts and the Gulf Coast. So Trump’s policies are accelerating the de-industrialization of the United States without doing anything to put new productive powers in place, and not even wanting other countries to invest here. The German car companies see Trump putting tariffs on the imported steel they need to build cars in the United States. It built them here to get around America’s tariff barriers against German and other automobiles. But now Trump is not even letting them import the parts that they need to assemble these cars in the non-unionized plants they’ve built in the South.

What can they do? Perhaps they’ll propose a trade with General Motors and Chrysler. The Europeans will get the factories that American companies own in Europe, and give them their American factories in exchange.

This kind of split is occurring without any attempt to make American labor more competitive by lowering its cost of housing, or the price of its health insurance and medical care, or its transportation costs or the infrastructure costs. So America is being left high and dry as a high-priced economy in a nationalistic world, while running a huge balance-of-payments deficit to support its military spending all over the globe.

Bonnie Faulkner: So it sounds like when the United States went off the gold standard, the dollar basically replaced gold as the main asset in which foreign governments could hold their assets. Now you’re saying that when there was no more gold standard, if foreign economies didn’t buy U.S. Treasuries, the price of their currency would rise and make them uncompetitive.

Michael Hudson: Yes. Imagine if Americans would have to pay more and more dollars to buy German cars. There’s going to be a larger demand for German currency, the euro, whose exchange rate would rise. That was happening throughout the 1960s and 1970s, before the euro. The only way that Germany could keep down the value of its mark was to buy something that cost dollars. It didn’t buy American exports, because America already was making and exporting less and less, except for food – and Germany can only eat so much wheat and soybeans. So the only thing that Germany could buy that was priced in dollars were U.S. Treasury bonds. That kept the German mark from rising even more rapidly, and kept the balance of payments in balance.

Japan had a similar problem. The Japanese tried to buy U.S. real estate, but they didn’t have any idea of what made real estate valuable here. They lost a reported billion dollars on buying Rockefeller Center, not realizing that the building was separate from the land value, and the land was owned by Columbia University. The building itself was running at a deficit. Most of the rental value paid was to the owner of the land’s groundrent. The Japanese had no idea of how American real estate worked.

The euro is only a satellite currency of the U.S. dollar

Some Americans worried that the euro might become a rival to the dollar. After all, Europe is not de-industrializing. It is moving forward and producing better cars, airplanes and other exports. So the United States persuaded foreign politicians to cripple the euro by making it an austerity currency, creating so few government bonds that there’s no euro vehicle large enough for foreign countries to keep their foreign reserves in. The United States can create more and more dollar debt by running a budget deficit. We can follow Keynesian policies by running a deficit to employ more labor. But the eurozone refuses to let countries run a budget deficit of more than 3 percent of its GDP. Now running more than 3 percent of their GDP. That level is very marginal compared to the United States. And if you’re trying not to run any deficit at all – and even if you keep it less than 3% – then you’re imposing austerity on your country, keeping your employment down. You’re stifling your internal market, cutting your throat by being unable to create a real rival to the dollar. That’s why Donald Rumsfeld called Europe a dead zone, and why the only alternatives for a rival currency are the Chinese yuan. They’re moving into a gold-based currency area along with Russia, Iran and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Bonnie Faulkner: The European Union not allowing European countries within the eurozone to not run deficits more than 3 percent was basically cutting their own throat. Why would they do such a thing?

Michael Hudson: Because the heads of the Central Bank are fighting a class war. They look at themselves as financial generals in the economic fight against labor, to hurt the working class, lower wages and help their political constituency, the wealthy investing class. Europe always has had a more vicious class war than the United States does. It’s never really emerged from its aristocratic post-feudal system. Its central bankers and universities follow the University of Chicago free-market school, saying that the way to get rich is to make your labor poorer, and to create a government where labor doesn’t have a voice. That’s Europe’s economic philosophy, and it’s why Europe has not matched the growth that China and other countries are experiencing.

Bonnie Faulkner: So it sounds like then the United States has been able to dominate the world economy since 1971 from a debtor position.

Michael Hudson: When it was losing gold, from 1950 to 1971, that wasn’t dominating; that was losing America’s gold supply to France, Germany, Japan and other countries. Only when it stopped the gold-exchange standard and left countries with no alternative for their international savings but to buy U.S. Treasury bonds or other securities was it able to pay for its military spending without losing its power.

Since 1971, world diplomacy has essentially been backed by American military power. It’s not a free market. Military power keeps countries in a financial strait jacket in which the United States can run into debt without having to repay it. Other countries that run payments deficits are not allowed to expand their economies, either to rival the United States or even to improve living standards for their labor force. Only countries outside the U.S. orbit – China, and in principle Russia and some other countries in Asia – are able to increase their living standards and capital investment and technology by being free of this globalized financial class war.

Bonnie Faulkner: In Super Imperialism you write that, “Pressures to create a New International Economic Order collapsed by the end of the 1970s.” Are you saying that other countries simply gave up and acquiesced to American monetary imperialism? What happened?

Michael Hudson: I’m told that there was wholesale bribery. Officials in the Reagan administration told me that they just paid off foreign officials to support the U.S. position, not a New International Economic Order. U.S. agencies maneuvered within the party politics of European and Near Eastern countries to promote pro-American officials and sideline those who did not agree to act as U.S. satellites. A lot of money was involved in this meddling.

So the United Stateshas corrupted democratic politics throughout Europe and the Near East, and much of Asia. That has succeeded in sterilizing foreign independence in the United States. Meanwhile, Thatcher’s and Reagan’s neoliberal ideas were promoted instead of the kind of mixed economy that Roosevelt and social democracy had been pressing for fifty years.

Who will plan economies: Financial managers, or democratic governments?

Bonnie Faulkner: If there were pressures to create a New International Economic Order in the 1970s, what was this new order looking to achieve?

Michael Hudson: Other countries wanted to do for their economies what the United States has long done for its own economy: to use their governments’ deficit spending to build up their infrastructure, raise living standards, create housing and promote progressive taxation that would prevent a rentier class, a landlord and financial class from taking over economic management. In the financial field, they wanted governments to create their own money, to promote their own development, just like the United States does. The role of neoliberalism was the opposite: it was to promote the financial and real estate sector and monopolies to take economic management away from government.

So the real question from the 1980s on was about who would be the basic planning center of society. Would it be the financial sector – the banks and bondholders, whose interest is really the One Percent that own most of the banks’ bonds and stocks? Or, is it going to be governments trying to subsidize the economy to help the 99 Percent grow and prosper? That was the social democratic view opposed by Thatcherism and Reaganism.

The international drive to de-dollarize

Bonnie Faulkner: Was this pressure that blocked a New International Economic Order brought on by the United States going off the gold-exchange standard?

Michael Hudson: No. It was a reaction against the U.S. policy of siphoning off the commanding heights of foreign economies. The United States wants to control their raw-materials exports, especially their oil and gas. It wants to control their financial system, so that all of their economic gains will go to foreign investors, mainly U.S. investors. It wants to turn other economies into service economies to the United States, and to make them into a kind of super-NATO military alliance that will oppose any country that does not want to be part of the U.S.-centered unilateral global order.

Bonnie Faulkner: How does today’s monetary imperialism – super imperialism – differ from the imperialism of the past?

Michael Hudson: It’s a higher stage of imperialism. The old imperialism was colonialism. You would come in and use military power to install a client ruling class. But each country would have its own currency. What has made imperialism “super” is that America doesn’t have to colonize another country. It doesn’t have to invade a country or actually go to war with it. All it needs is to have the country invest its savings, its export earnings in loans to the United States Government. This enables the United States to keep its interest rates low and enable American investors to borrow from American banks at a low rate to buy up foreign industry and agriculture that’s yielding 10 percent, 15 percent or more. So American investors realize that despite the balance-of-payments deficit, they can borrow back these dollars at such a low rate from foreign countries – paying only 1 percent to 3 percent on the Treasury bonds they hold – while pumping dollars into foreign economies by buying up their industry and agriculture and infrastructure and public utilities, making large capital gains. The hope is that and soon, we’ll earn our way out of debt by this free ride arrangement.

Imperialism is getting something for nothing. It is a strategy to obtain other countries’ surplus without playing a productive role, but by creating an extractive rentier system. An imperialist power obliges other countries to pay tribute. Of course, America doesn’t come right out and tell other countries, “You have to pay us tribute,” like Roman emperors told the provinces they governed. U.S. diplomats simply insist that other countries invest their balance-of-payments inflows and official central-bank savings in US dollars, especially U.S. Treasury IOUs. This Treasury-bill standard turns the global monetary and financial system into a tributary system.

That is what pays the costs of U.S. military spending, including its 800 military bases throughout the world, and its foreign legion of Isis, Al Qaeda fighters and “color revolutions” to destabilize countries that don’t adhere to the dollar-centered global economic system.

Bonnie Faulkner: You write: “Today it would be necessary for Europe and Asia to design an artificial, politically created alternative to the dollar as an international store of value. This promises to become the crux of international political tensions for the next generation.” How does the world break out of this double-standard dollar domination?

Michael Hudson: It’s already coming about. And Trump is a great catalyst speeding departing guests. China and Russia are reducing their dollar holdings. They don’t want to hold American Treasury bonds, because if America goes to war with them, it will do to them what it did to Iran. It will just keep all the money, not pay back the investment China has kept in U.S. banks and the Treasury. So they’re getting rid of the dollars that they hold. They’re buying gold, and are moving as quickly as they can to be independent of any reliance on U.S. exports. They are building up their military, so that if the United States tries to threaten them, they can defend themselves. The world is fracturing.

Bonnie Faulkner: What are foreign countries like China and Russia using to buy gold? Are they buying it with dollars?

Michael Hudson: Yes. They earn dollars or euros from what they’re exporting. This money goes into the central bank of China, because Chinese exporters want domestic yuan to pay their own workers and suppliers. So they go to the Bank of China and they exchange their dollars for yuan. The Bank of China, the central bank, then decides what to do with this foreign currency. They may go into the open market and buy gold. Or, they may spend it in foreign countries, on the Belt and Road Initiative to build a railway and steamship infrastructure and port development to help China’s exporters integrate their economy with others and ultimately with Europe, replacing the United States as customer and supplier. They see the United States as a dying economy.

Bonnie Faulkner: Can the Chinese build up their Belt and Road infrastructure projects with dollars?

Michael Hudson: No, they are getting rid of dollars. They already are receiving such a large surplus each year that they only use the dollars to buy gold or some goods, such as Boeing airplanes, but mostly food and raw materials. When China buys iron from Australia, for instance, they sell dollars from their foreign-exchange reserves and buy Australian currency to pay Australians for the iron ore that they import. They use dollars to pay other countries that are still part of the dollar area and still willing to keep adding these dollars to their official monetary reserves instead of holding gold.

Bonnie Faulkner: Well, it is kind of surprising, Michael, that countries haven’t started doing this a lot sooner.

Michael Hudson: There has been political pressure not to withdraw from the dollar-debt system. If countries act independently, they risk being overthrown. It takes a strong government to resist American interference and dirty tricks to put its own country first instead of following the U.S. advisors and agents who pay them to serve the U.S. economy rather than their own, or to resist brainwashing by University of Chicago’s junk economics.

Bonnie Faulkner: How far along is the dollar’s demise as the world’s reserve currency?

Michael Hudson: It’s already slowing. Trump is doing everything he can to accelerate it, by threatening that if foreign countries continue to recycle their export earnings into dollars (raising the dollar’s exchange rate), we’ll accuse them of manipulating their currency. So he would like to end it all by the end of his second term in 2024.

Bonnie Faulkner: What would the United States look like if the dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency?

Michael Hudson: If it continues to let Wall Street do the economic planning, the economy will look like that of Argentina.

Bonnie Faulkner: And what does Argentina look like?

Michael Hudson: A narrow oligarchy at the top, keeping labor at the bottom, taking away labor’s rights to unionize – an economy whose financial and military sectors have won the class war.

Bonnie Faulkner: China, with its Belt and Road infrastructure project, is now buying gold on the open market, as are a number of other countries. Has the Western banking system penetrated China? And if so, how would you characterize China’s banking system?

Michael Hudson: There’s an attempt by the United States to penetrate China. In the recent trade agreements China did permit U.S. banks to create their own credit. I’m not sure that this is going to really take off, now that Trump is accelerating the trade war. But basically, in America you have private banks extending credit to corporations. In China you have the government banks extending the loans. That saves China from having a financial crisis in the way that the United States does.

About 12 percent of American companies are said to be zombie companies. They’re already insolvent, not able to make a profit after paying their heavy debt service. But banks are still giving them enough credit to stay in business, so they won’t have to go bankrupt and create a crisis. China doesn’t have that problem, because when Chinese industry and factories are not able to pay, the public Bank of China can simply forgive the debt. Its choice is clear: Either it can let companies go bankrupt and be sold at a low price to some buyer, mainly an American; or, it can wipe the bad debts off the books.

If China had been crazy enough to have student loans and leave its graduates impoverished instead of providing free universities, China’s central bank could simply write off the student loans. No investors would lose, because the banks are owned by the government. Its position is, “If you’re a factory, we don’t want you to have to close down and unemploy your labor. We’ll just write down the debt. And if your employees are having a really hard time, we’ll just write down their debts, so that they can spend their money on goods and services to help expand our internal market.”

America’s banks are owned by the stockholders and bondholders, who would never let Chase Manhattan or Citibank or Wells Fargo just forgive their various categories of loans. That’s why public banking is so much more efficient from an economy-wide level than private banks. It’s why banking should be a public utility, not privatized.

Bonnie Faulkner: Can you explain further how writing down debts is good for the economy?

Michael Hudson: Well, think of the alternative to writing down debts. If you don’t write down America’s student debts, the graduates are going to have to pay so much of the student debt service (now to the government) that they’re not going to have enough money to be able to buy a house, they won’t have enough money to get married, they won’t have enough money to buy goods and services. It means that most people who can buy houses are graduates with trust funds – students whose parents are rich enough that they didn’t have to take out a student loan to pay for their children’s education. These hereditary families are rich enough to buy them their own apartment.

That’s why the American economy is polarizing between people who inherit enough money to be able to have their own housing and budgets free of student loans and other debts, compared to families that are debt strapped and running deeper into debt and without much savings. This financial bifurcation is making us poorer. Yet neoliberal economic theory sees this as a competitive advantage. For them, and for employers, poverty is not a problem to be solved; it is the solution to their own aim of profitability.

Bonnie Faulkner: So is this whole privatization scheme, particularly the privatization of the banking system and privatizing a lot of infrastructure what’s bankrupting the United States?

Michael Hudson: Yes, just as it’s bankrupted England and other countries that followed Thatcherism or the neo-liberal philosophy since about 1980.

Bonnie Faulkner: Michael Hudson, thank you again.

Michael Hudson: It’s always a pleasure to have these discussions.

Bonnie Faulkner: I’ve been speaking with Dr. Michael Hudson. Today’s show has been: De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire. Dr. Hudson is a financial economist and historian. He is President of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trend, a Wall Street Financial Analyst and Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. His 1972 book, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire, the subject of today’s broadcast, is posted in PDF format on his website at michael-hudson.com. He is also author of Trade, Development and Foreign Debt, which is the academic sister volume to Super Imperialism. Dr. Hudson acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide on finance and tax law. Visit his website at michael-hudson.com.

Guns and Butter is produced by Bonnie Faulkner, Yarrow Mahko and Tony Rango. Visit us at gunsandbutter.org to listen to past programs, comment on shows, or join our email list to receive our newsletter that includes recent shows and updates. Email us at faulkner@gunsandbutter.org. Follow us on Twitter at gandbradio.

The audio of this interview with Michael Hudson is available here.

 

 

Remnants of War

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:52

Intense fighting and hideous attacks battered Afghans throughout their country last week as negotiators in Qatar weighed the benefits and costs of  a peace agreement that might stop the bloodshed.

In Kabul at least 40 people, including one child, were killed in a complex Taliban attack. Dozens of children whose school was partially collapsed by a massive car bomb were injured. Of these, 21 were hospitalized with serious injuries.

New York Times correspondent Mujib Mashal posted (on Twitter) a photo of an elementary school child being carried into the Italian Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War in Kabul. “Blood on his face,” Mashal writes, describing the child. “Still in shock. Still clutching that pencil.”

The same attack damaged a television station, a government facility and an adjoining private war museum.

Operated by OMAR, (Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation), a group dedicated to the never-ending and often dangerous work of mine-clearance and disposal, the war museum houses ordnance and land mines used in Afghanistan during four decades of warfare. In 2012, young Afghan Peace Volunteers took me to see the museum. I recall a small exhibit showing remnants of a United States cluster bomb. The remnants are called bomblets, and each cluster bomb consists of 202 bomblets. They resemble children’s playthings, items that could be stepped on, driven over or picked up by curious children. The U.S. dropped 1,228 cluster bombs in Afghanistan between October 2001 and March 2002 alone. The Afghan landscape is now littered by anti-personnel and anti-tank mines which OMAR is striving to remove, where permitted, before more Afghan civilians are killed. Research by the Mine Action Program of Afghanistan indicates, in the first three months of the current year, 130 Afghan boys and girls were casualties of “ERW:” “Explosive Remnants of War”.

As negotiations inched forward, two Afghan government airstrikes, possibly using United States assistance, hit civilians, killing 7 members of a family in the Baghlan province and four civilians in a clinic in Maidan Wardak province.

The Taliban, U.S. Government, and every other warring party in Afghanistan must be asked: “How many more civilians, including children, are you willing to kill and maim?”

The second time I visited the OMAR museum was with my friend Martha Hennessy. We were asked not to take photos, but Martha had already snapped a picture of a carpet carefully woven to illustrate several types of land mines Afghans should watch out for. The carpet was hung on a wall, but actual mines lie in the paths to be traversed by innocent Afghans. On the phone with me discussing the recent Kabul attack, Martha mentioned that carpet and reflected on the terrible carpeting of Afghanistan with barbarous ordnance.

Martha now faces up to 20 years in prison for protesting the most barbarous and inhumane weaponry ever invented.

Martha, a granddaughter of the Catholic Worker Movement’s founder Dorothy Day, is one of seven activists, the “King’s Bay Plowshares 7“, whose April 4, 2018 action was in accord with their deeply held beliefs that life is sacred, and must not be taken in war. The U.S. naval base at King’s Bay, Georgia houses nuclear-missile-armed Trident submarines. Entering without permission, they hung banners, displayed crime scene tape and poured their blood on the base grounds. They protested the U.S.’ preparations, far exceeding those of any other nation, to commit “omnicide”, to carpet the world in in fire, in fallout, in the snows of a deadly “nuclear winter,” in ash. For the past fifteen months, they’ve awaited trial on charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass. They feel that U.S. readiness for war must be put on trial now, or potentially never.

Another of Martha’s co-defendants has been a guest, like us, of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Our friend Carmen Trotta recalls a visit to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, an Italy-based hospital that treated many victims of the recent Kabul attacks. In 2014 we had visited the hospital to donate blood, and met Jamshaid and Farshaid, young teens who had survived a suicide bomb attack on the United States military base in Bagram. They had been standing outside their school outside the base when the attack happened. Farshaid’s leg had been amputated. Jamshaid had lost much of his vision. We asked Michaela Paschetto, a young Italian nurse, how they were faring.

“Today was a bad day for them,” she said. “Really, I don’t ask so many questions,” she continued. “It becomes too much.”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Carmen recalls. “I honestly couldn’t think of a word to say.”

Carmen, Martha and each of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 will have their say, however brief, in a Brunswick County federal court on August 7. Oral arguments will be heard including several motions as well as their belief they opposed the U.S. nuclear arsenal in accord with their religious faith. They have consistently opposed weapons and wars and just as steadfastly served, as members of Dorothy Day’s movement, their impoverished neighbors. They understand the wars, the omnicidal weapons awaiting their use at King’s Bay, and the suffering of the U.S. poor as, in some sense, all part of a global war on the poor.

Depending on whether we resist or acquiesce, grieve or complacently ignore, we ourselves risk becoming the tragic, perpetually dangerous remnants of war.

The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:35

Heard “Trader Joe’s” podcast yet? I don’t know who would listen to a 22-minute corporate ad. But, given how cool podcasts have become: hey, that sounds inviting. The idea is also an implicit endorsement for radio– because that’s where podcasting originated. Yes.

I don’t want to disenchant young progressives for whom podcasts are their go-to listening medium today. It unlikely wouldn’t concern them in any case that in reality these phone-friendly popular audio items are little more than archived radio productions. They follow basic principles developed by radio hosts and editors over the years– many years.

I’m not here to knock podcasting; not at all’; podcasts are a welcome advance, a real boon for radio broadcasting. Still evolving, radio has conscripted a generation who twenty-five years ago listened to sound productions only in a car, or (as teenagers) from a boom box at the beach.

Today’s listeners don’t dial into 99.5 FM or 800 AM. Through iTunes or another app, they locate an amusing podcast among a list of hundreds (thousands?) of podcast subjects or sites. Many of those are original radio productions adapted to a podcast format, packaged into serials that can be subscribed to, listened to for a while then picked up later. Everything’s portable—not only in your car, but in your pocket phone while traveling to work by train or subway car.

So the medium of radio not only survives; it’s evolving too, using the latest technology to reach into every phone.

How has radio’s appeal endured? Simply because radio builds on its quintessential feature– intimacy. Besides its proven versatility, radio invites us in. Yes, it may stimulate us with flute solos, sitar ragas, blues and R&B, Brahms sonatas or inventive hip-hop poetry. More poignantly, radio taps our deep human need for the voices of others. It’s often a very private experience, attested by the ubiquity of slinky earbuds and chunky wireless headphones that envelope each wearer in his and her personal world.

Many are unfamiliar with a piece of household furniture known as an FM radio receiver — like this Jackson Bell 1930s ‘cathedral’ style radio. You’ll find other classics such as Bakelite radios and transistors on vintage radio sites for broadcasting aficionados from the era bypassed by the current generation– like the dial-up phone that was plugged into a wall!

I learned about the dispensability of these FM home receivers when visiting the apartment of a fellow producer thirteen years ago. She quietly answered my challenge– How can a radio producer not possess a radio, the medium we work in?– by opening her computer and tuning into our station’s webpage! “It’s called streaming”, she informed this old-timer.

Today every station live-streams and offers a phone app through which you can subscribe to listen live and search archived shows and podcasts. Thanks to phone apps radio’s reach extends far beyond the kitchen table model or the car receiver. (For a few intervening years when television dominated home entertainment, the car was where most radio programs reached listeners. Then cars acquired SiriusXM (launching 22 podcasts soon, I’m informed) whose plethora of channels competes with television.

Sixty years ago, apart from the toaster, a radio was the only electronic device in regular use in a home. When television came along, oh the woes and warnings: radio was finished. How would it complete with live picture transmissions? Chatty comedians like Arthur Godfrey eschewed radio for TV as did sportscasters. (Imagine fans gathering around a sitting room audio receiver cheering on their team! But they did.) Then there’s drama; drama was once a mainstay of radio, offering employment for writers, actors and sound effects specialists. “The Lone Ranger” and “The Shadow” were two serialized shows I recall hearing as a child. (One can still listen to those early dramas on programs like “The Golden Age of Radio” which my WBAI colleague Max Schmid began producing in 1976.)

Radio dramas provided evening family entertainment and were adapted for children too. I belong to the generation of schoolchildren who walked home for lunch where we heard a daily episode of some short children’s drama airing at 12:30. This was in Canada where radio always had a special status. (Maybe it still does.)

The still popular broadcast “Selected Shorts” based on recorded performances began in 1985. Today radio drama is enlivened by productions like “The Moth Radio Hour” launched in 2010 (from Woods Hole, MA) inspired by Atlantic Media’s commitment to “the art of the story, in the power of sound and spoken word”. (Atlantic Media introduced a fresh ambiance into radio broadcasting.)

For decades after television was a household fixture, in defiance of expectations, radio held his own. Television sets were initially one per household, dominating the sitting room, with the radio receiver consigned to the kitchen for morning news and weather.

Radio’s role in the music industry was advanced by “American Top 40 Countdown” introduced in 1970 by Casey Kassem.

And what about political radio? Perhaps as a corollary to growing opposition to the Vietnam War, alternative voices needed a space on the FM dial. The Pacifica Network (founded in 1949 surged in popularity during the 1960s (which in 1996 gave birth to “Democracy Now” which largely eclipsed the mother network). Pacifica’s early commitment to vigorous debate and a space for dissenting voices fostered the talk-radio format where lively hosts brought listeners on-air by phone. Talk radio’s widening influence is now associated with extreme conservative advocates Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Mark Levin. Their radical views may appear comical to some, but their deep impact into American politics is unarguable. One of the founders of talk-radio lies at the other end of the political spectrum–RadioUnnamable’s Bob Fass who originated “free form” radio which also revolutionized late night FM listening.

The Podcast revolution notwithstanding, regular FM broadcasting is attracting print news sources to the air, from “Counterpunch” to “The New Yorker Radio” and New York Times’ “The Daily”.

Stay tuned for more.

Christianity Demands a Corpse 

Mon, 2019-07-15 14:13

Christianity Demands a Corpse

These camps are fine,
they say
Those who have no minds,
No brains,
Their skulls: just holes
Or graves, agape,
Hungering for bodies

 

Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement

Fri, 2019-07-12 16:05

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Alongside and consistent with other privilege- and power-serving missions, so-called mainstream corporate media’s role is to keep the populace focused as best it can on relatively trivial matters and diverted from the most urgent topics of our time.

Kamala Harris Wants to Kill Your Health Insurance

Two Sundays ago, in a fit of masochistic media research, I watched some cable news talking heads do their weekly news roundups. CNN had a panel of know-it-all neoliberals who reflected on the Democratic Party’s first two presidential debates. Everyone agreed that Kamala Harris had been the big winner but had erred badly by embracing “the abolition of private health insurance.”

That’s how CNN’s “expert commentators” describe Medicare for All – not as high quality and low-cost health care as a human right with great direct and collateral benefits resulting from the eviction of corporate profit from coverage. Not as a great potential social and human rights victory, but as destruction: the “abolition” of (unmentionably parasitic, classist, exclusionary, inferior, and expensive, for-profit) health insurance.

Not that Senator Harris would seriously fight for Single Payer. She wouldn’t. She’s a corporate Democrat.

But I digress.

The chattering CNN craniums shifted to the United States Women’s World Cup soccer team that was triumphing in Paris. The panelists applauded the team’s star, Megan Rapione, a lesbian who refuses to visit the Donald Trump White House. (Good for her, but why not visit and spit in the Malignant One’s eye?).

Joy Reid Blames Russia for Anti-Kamala Birtherism

Over on the openly partisan-Democratic cable network MSNBC (hereafter “MSDNC”), morning host Joy Reid was going off about the Huxwellian idiocy of Donald Trump’s DMZ handshake with Kim Jong-Un and the strange kind of love Trump has for the North Korean dictator and other authoritarian heads-of-state. As usual with MSDNC, it was hard to detect the line separating the network’s proper criticism of Trump from its deep investment in U.S. imperialism.

Consistent with the investment, Reid turned to the noxious racist vulgarity of online rightists who claim that Kamala Harris isn’t a “real African-American.” Reid showed viewers a copy of the Mueller Report and claimed without a hint of proof that the neo-Birther Internet campaign against Harris was directed by the Russians? Her evidence? The Mueller Report, completed prior to the Harris smear.

“A Screaming Heat Skull of Death”

I don’t mean to suggest that any of these topics (except for Reid’s creepy Russia claim) are irrelevant and un-newsworthy. Still, everything I saw discussed during my sampling of “liberal” cable news stations’ Sunday morning fare was minor compared to what should have been the biggest story of all from the week under consideration. The news in question touched on Paris, but it wasn’t about football. As Business Insider reported:

“The intense heat wave blasting Europe with record-breaking temperatures manifested on a recent weather forecast as a screaming heat skull of death looming over France. A forecast map for Thursday, first created June 20, showed France’s scorching temperatures creating a giant, screaming face over the country as the country braced itself for the hottest temperatures since a 2003 heat wave killed 15,000 people in the country.”

“A French meteorologist named Ruben Hallali first spotted the map, and he shared it on Twitter alongside Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream.’”

“…Areas of France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Spain have experienced record-breaking temperatures this week, with some areas seeing heat of more than 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 Fahrenheit. Temperatures could still rise further as the weekend approaches.”

“People are bathing in public fountains, and a man in Germany is said to have run naked through a supermarket freezer aisle.”

“Paris has banned older cars from the city, and Germany’s autobahn highways have introduced speed limits in a bid to prevent excessive pollution in the heat, the Associated Press reported.”

“In France, schools have been closed and state exams postponed as cities install extra swimming pools, water fountains, mist machines, and ‘cool rooms’ meant to keep people cool.”

“…At least three people have died as a result of the heat wave, according to the regional French newspaper Midi Libre…It reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit in France on Saturday, the peak of an historic heat wave that plagued much of the continent last week.”

In a visual accident catching the eye of a scientist who knew some art history, the weather map of Europe, geopolitical womb of the 500-year-old world-capitalist assault on the global commons, revealed the deadly “heat skull” cooked up by the bourgeois system, with its manic addiction to carbon-spewing economic “growth” (capital accumulation) at any and all costs.

“A Death Spiral That Threatens Human Existence”

Such temperatures are themselves lethal. I write from Chicago, where a heat wave killed 739 people (disproportionately poor, Black, and elderly) over five days in the summer of 1995 [1]. Beyond just weather (the idiotic level at which Trump understands climate change), however, the real peril posed by the climate crisis is nothing less than human extinction. Left unchecked, runaway anthro-/capitalo-genic global warming will cost the species its abilities to grow abundant nutritious food, secure enough clean water, adequately cool its bodies, and resist pandemics driven in part by climatological shifts. Resource wars and reactionary nationalist, neo-fascist politics sparked in part by significantly climate-driven migrations are two more parts of the apocalyptic mix.

The Skull of Death is a fitting visual metaphor. The Four Horsemen are saddling up, thinking of bringing some other riders along to the party.

“Permafrost in the Arctic,” Dahr Jamail notes on Truthout, “is thawing so fast scientists are losing their measuring tools…instead of their just being a few centimeters of thawing each year, now several meters of soil can become destabilized in a matter of days. Adding insult to injury, the permafrost collapse is further accelerating the release of carbon into the atmosphere, possibly even doubling the amount of warming coming from greenhouse gases released from the tundra.”

“A growth-based economic system bent on wringing cash from nature,” Casey Williams writes, “has exploited the planet’s ecosystems beyond what they can bare. Now, Earth’s fragile life-support system is entering a death spiral that threatens human existence and which no one is prepared to stop.”

The interrelated and mutually reinforced capital-driven ravages of industrial pollution, chemical proliferation, animal agriculture, deforestation, ocean acidification, soil depletion, over-development are turning the planet (among other deadly things) into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber. Under the pressure of these anthropogenic – or, you prefer, capitalogenic – forces, “life,” in Williams’ words, “is headed for total collapse,” with an “estimated 1 million species gone by 2050.”

“We are living,” Jamail writes, “with the full knowledge of our collapsing biosphere and watching huge portions of it vanish before our very eyes.”

Nothing Else Will Matter

This is the leading issue of our or any time. Nothing else comes close If this environmental meltdown is not addressed through a massive and quickly implemented global Green New Deal, then, as Noam Chomsky explained seven years ago, nothing else progressives and other decent and caring people care about is going to matter all that much. We’ll just be arguing over how to more equitably slice up the pieces of a scorched pie, how to turn a poisoned planet upside down. The workers of the world will have a charnel ground to win. The meek will inherit a fetid mausoleum.

Environmentalists are right to tell business elites, politicos, and policymakers that there’s no jobs, no economy, no growth, and no profits on a dead planet. Environmentalists would be equally right to tell progressives and leftists that there’s no social justice, no equality, no democracy, no civil rights, no workers’ control, no socialism, and no revolution worth having (beyond the momentary pleasure of taking revenge on the accumulation-mad Ahabs who pushed the planet over the cliff) on a lifeless Earth.

I hate to agree with a wealthy Hollywood liberal, but Robert Redford has a point:

“Collusion, obstruction of justice, impeachment or not, greedy tax breaks, medical care for all or none, refugees seeking compassion at our borders — as a citizen, I care deeply about all these things. But I also fail to see how any of it will matter without a planet to live onWe are approaching an irreversible tipping point. The science of climate change is backed by examples of the damage mankind has caused all around us, every day and everywhere. None of us are immune anymore; no matter where we live, no matter our political party…I can’t think of anything that should compel and demand our attention more.”

This would seem to be Historical Materialism 101.

Worthy and Unworthy News from Paris

Hoping for American corporate and commercial news and commentary to engage in serious and honest discussions of the severity of the threat is a fool’s game, of course. Honest engagement with dire environmental realities would interfere with the sale of goods and services and is thus unimaginable on any serious scale in “mainstream” state-capitalist media.

Look at this item from NBC News two Saturdays ago, focused on the trials of an attractive 30s-something couple braving high temperatures on a romantic but over-steamy trip to Paris:

“The unusual heat has left many struggling to cope in the French capital where homes and buildings are not designed for steamy conditions or equipped with air conditioning. …‘We were not expecting this, so when we booked our Airbnb, we literally didn’t check that it doesn’t have air conditioning,’ said Sampada Jadhav, 32, sitting under the trees at the Jardin du Palais Royal with her spouse Jay Ghag….The pair — who split their time between Mumbai, India and Bakersfield, Calif. — are used to the heat but were hoping for more comfortable temperatures…Jadhav said they changed their sight-seeing plans to ensure they’d be in museums and other attractions that are climate controlled during the hottest times of the day, and Ghag packed a bag full of water bottles.”

This is the superficial level at which Europe’s record heat interested NBC.

Here is a useful green translation of the affluent high-tech/high carbon footprint couple’s complaint, viewed as newsworthy by the network: “We exacerbate the climate crisis by flying regularly back and forth across the Pacific. If we had known the crisis was going to create such extreme heat in Paris before we flew there, we would have planned to exacerbate it by arranging to crank up some air-conditioning there.”

Mais bien sur, no such translation would be accepted by media managers at NBC or any other major U.S. television network. Corporate and commercial media caters to corporate advertisers, including airlines, tour companies, and travel agencies.

If environmentalists directed programming at NBC, they would have featured some people other than the U.S. Women’s soccer team and the globetrotting Bakersfield-Mumbai couple as newsworthy subjects in Paris. They would have highlighted the courageous young Extinction Rebellion protesters who occupied a Paris bridge on the hottest day in French history. The activists sat arm-in-arm while sadistic, overheated gendarmes sprayed tear gas directly into their faces. They faced down the heat, the police, and chemicals to demand a societal shift from fossil fuels and mass-consumerist eco-extractivism to renewable energy and sustainable lifeways.

That’s a programming decision negated in advance by commercial calculation. Media corporations sell big money advertising time to energy, airline, automobile and other corporations deeply invested in the reigning “growth-based economic system bent on wringing cash from nature.”

“An Existential Crisis Within This World”

Media matters aside, we face a terrible conundrum. The climate emergency is the clear outcome of the profits system: capitalism itself and not just “neoliberalism” – a fancy-sounding word system’s post-1970s return to its long rapacious and regressive norm. The problem is that this crisis is moving too quickly and lethally for us to make the transcendence of capitalism an all-or-nothing prerequisite for dramatic and positive climate action.

“We should never stop fighting for a better world,” Noam Chomsky told me last June 4th, “but the time scales are such that we have to deal with an existential crisis within this one. Some kind of Green New Deal is utterly necessary.”

In a smart and recent interview with Mohsen Abdelmoumen, the incisive workers’ control advocate and historian Chris Wright argues that the emergence of a much-needed socialist society. “the solidarity economy writ large…will take a very, very long time. Social revolutions on the global scale we’re talking about,” Wright says, “take generations, even centuries. It probably won’t take as long as the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, but none of us will see ‘socialism’ in our lifetimes.”

Wright may be correct, but his temporal reflections have nothing to do with addressing the rapidly moving existential crisis we are facing right now thanks to a bourgeois order that took centuries to emerge out of European feudalism (please no emails on the Dobby-Sweezy and Brenner debates). Half a millennium later, this “modern” regime of class rule has delivered us to the door of extinction (Marx and Engels might be said to have prophesied this dark denouement with their 1848 observation that class societies either move forward with the “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large” or see “the common ruin of the contending classes.”) The crisis must be addressed very, very quickly or its curtains and the transition from capitalism to socialism is all too sadly beside the point. Earth is our witness in the present moment – the only moment that exists.

So set aside “the radical reconstruction of society itself,” identified by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 as “the real issue to be faced”? No. The arc of history must ultimately be bent towards the egalitarian reign of the associated producers or disaster is certain. Rosa Luxembourg had it right: it’s “socialism or barbarism.” We’ve seen more than enough of the latter and far too little of the former since Rosa penned that pithy aphorism.

Still, historical-material realities have a nasty way of complicating radical aspirations. “Men,” Karl Marx famously wrote, “make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

The leading inherited (but now rapidly developing) circumstance of our time is the environmental crisis, with climate collapse in the lead.

With the rise of the Third Reich and the Axis in the mid-late 1930s, leftists had no choice but to join hands with any and all allies – bourgeois ones included – in the struggle to defeat the greatest threat to humanity at the time: global fascism. That was an existential fact (grasped by no less an existentialist than Jean Paul Sartre) that could not be escaped by the time Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. Slaying the fascist menace involved the massive and rapid government-directed reconversion and mobilization of political economies and societies to make the things needed (weapons, ordnance, supplies, battle-ready soldiers and more) to vanquish the fascist menace.

Now a broader and very different, deeper reconversion is required to stop our self-defeating war on livable ecology under the command of capital. Herculean action on this front (some action is underway but hardly on the scale required) is urgently need now, not in five or ten or fifteen years.

Scientific Socialism

Is sustainable and planned environmental reconversion for the common good possible under the chaotic, growth- and accumulation-addicted capitalist system, whose profit rates have always depended on the rapacious exploitation of “cheap nature” (human nature included)? Certainly not – no more than democracy can co-exist with class rule. That’s why the recently released Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) report on biodiversity loss calls, in Casey Williams words, “for nothing less that the total transformation of the global economy.” The IPBES argues, as Williams writes, that “producing for profit has failed us…and failed the planet.” The scientific finding: “we need ‘transformative change’…to prioritize human well-being and environmental sustainability rather than the pursuit of profit.”

“Scientific socialism” anyone?

Still, rapid movement towards reconversion must start now, just as the war against fascism could not be postponed until after the United States and the Soviet Union had achieved true workers’ control socialism.

The World War II analogy is very far from perfect, naturally enough. It was quite possible for the capitalist order to shed itself of the interwar fascist regimes and survive not merely intact but in fact enhanced, with profit rates booming after the massive creative destruction that cost 50 millions lives and set off a remarkable U.S-led global economic expansion that pushed the planet fully into the “Anthropocene” – a period when human activities (under the historically specific command of capital) decisively altered Earth systems. What emerged in the wake of the fascist Axis’ defeat, curiously enough, was the global hegemony of a historically unmatched military-capitalist Superpower, the United States, an outward Constitutional “democracy” where real command and control fell to an authoritarian power structure interweaving corporate oligopoly, a military-industrial complex, and a bipartisan political oligarchy – all buttressed by political money and a propagandistic media of mass consent and diversion. This was a durable, outwardly bourgeois-democratic authoritarian regime that achieved much of what classic historical fascism was meant to accomplish for the German, Italian, and Japanese ruling classes during the interwar years and World War II. It has set the world’s only Superpower up for a likely transition to something more like classic fascism in coming years.

The profits system cannot survive a serious collective effort to avert Ecocide. The demand for a decent and organized human existence functioning in harmony rather than at war with the natural environment (of which humanity is part) cannot be met under the unelected dictatorship of capital. It is ultimately anti-capitalist.

The bad news for some radicals is that the “utterly necessary” Green New Deal must be started under the current system of militarized state capitalism. The good news is that, unlike the victory over the interwar fascist regimes, a conversion to a sustainable society cannot be achieved under capitalism in any form.

Postscript: A Party of Appeasement

Since I spend so much time and energy criticizing MSDNC and the Democrats, it is only fair that I praise two positive developments I recently witnessed on the network and in the party. The first such development is that the leading issue of our or any time got top mention as the main problem facing the nation during the Democratic Party presidential debates hosted by MSDNC two weeks ago. Senator Harris (D-CA) even had the decency to point out that “climate change” is too mild a term for what is in reality a “climate crisis.”

I’ll take it. Nominal recognition of existential reality is better than abject denial, even if it is doubtful than any of the Democratic hopefuls other than (perhaps) Bernie Sanders would seriously try to implement a Green New Deal.

The second decent thing was MSDNC host Joy Reid letting America’s best elected official, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, speak freely and at length two Sundays ago about most House Democrats’ vote to give Trump $450 billion for “border security” even though the bill granting the White House the money contains no serious protections or high standards of care for detained migrants, including children in for-profit concentration camps – and despite the absence of any real way of stopping the orange racist pig from diverting money marked for humanitarian aid to “immigration enforcement.” Omar’s comments were eloquent and instructive:

“My colleagues decided that they were going to co-sign on this horrendous, cruel process that this administration has engaged in without really speaking on the kind of values that we have. That says…We are deciding that there are certain days or certain months that it is okay for children to be remained in these conditions. No child deserves to be in that condition. We have an opportunity to address this crisis in a proper way, in a humane way and to me it is really about people who are thinking about what is politically expedient. It’s about people who are thinking about what helps their friends line their pockets, and there are children that are suffering. And our values are suffering. And we can do better than this.”

When Reid asked Omar “why [Dem] moderates in the House [are] so insistent on cutting deals with the White House…when it comes to something as critical as children’s lives and safety,” the Congresswoman answered thus:

“This is one of the reasons I think the public is always frustrated with politicians. We were running for office. We said send us into the majority so we can be a check and balance to the cruelty of this administration. Now that we are in the majority we are too busy appeasing this administration and I think I can the frustration of the American people, who are really disappointed that, again, we have people in power who have forgotten the purpose and reason they were given that privilege. I am always surprised every time we are having a discussion in regard to policy how people will talk about the political reality and they don’t talk about the human reality of the policies that we are passing. We take an oath truly, to care for the American people and to make sure we are furthering policies that are in line with our values and we often fail short. And I think with the Democratic Party we’re oftentimes so trying to appease everyone we end up appeasing no one.”

I share none of Omar’s “surprise,” but I admire how the Congresswoman keeps a knowing smile on her face while she elegantly guts establishment and imperialist politicos like Elliot Abrams and Nancy Pelosi.

“Appeasement,” historically astute readers will recognize, was a widely used term to describe how much of the Western bourgeois establishment responded to the rise of the Third Reich.  It is an appropriate description of how the dismal and demobilizing dollar Democrats – the party that Sheldon Wolin aptly termed the Inauthentic Opposition – have responded to the creeping-/pre-fascist Trump administration on numerous issues, from “border security” to the Pentagon budget, the surveillance state, the economic torture and demonization of Venezuela and Iran, the coddling of racist Israel, violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, impeachment (as in non), the smearing of “socialism” (the mild social democracy of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and more.

Nowhere is appeasement/inauthentic opposition more lethal than on the issue of ecology.  Of all the terrible things Trump has done, none is more egregious than his climate-denialist escalation of the carbon-capitalist war on a livable environment.  Democrats who had the courage of their avowed convictions on the “climate crisis” (try “Climate Emergency,” Senator Harris) would lead with Trump’s actions in that policy area and not with the comparatively minor matter of his weird relationship with the Russian government (pro-fossil fuel by the way) when it comes to advancing reasons for removing the tangerine-tinted monster from the White House via impeachment and/or the absurdly anti-democratic Electoral College (how about through relentless mass civil disobedience with millions occupying the streets, town halls, offices, schools, and workplaces, etc.?)  In harsh reality, however, most of the Democratic presidential contenders beyond the social democratic military-Keynesian Sanders (the supposed “radical left socialist” the party and its many media allies are working hard and effectively to marginalize) depend on campaign contributions from fossil fuel and other commercial and corporate interests that are hopelessly attached to “a growth-based economic system bent on wringing cash from nature.”  These candidates depend also on the favor of a corporate and commercial media that is wired among other things to make sure that millions of citizens (or ex-citizens) in the world’s leading historical carbon emitting nation are NOT in fact “living with full knowledge of our collapsing biosphere” and of what lay behind the collapse.  Hence my own choice for a leading t target of the commoners’ revolution to save the commons and preserve the common good: the corporate enclosure of mass communications.

Endnote

1. Michael Borunda, 35, said this to NBC News while marching in extreme heat in a gay Pride parade on Paris, France two weeks ago: “I lived in Chicago for five years and heat never stopped anybody; it doesn’t matter how hot it is.” Wrong: the heat in Chicago stopped 739 people dead and cold in the summer of 1995. It matters how hot it is.

 

“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule

Fri, 2019-07-12 16:00

Photograph Source: Tyler Merbler – CC BY 2.0

As we know, both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are bought, sold, and paid for by big business. For that reason, both have a history of avoiding the issues that are common to Americans of all political persuasions. Addressing such issues would undermine the profits of big business. They include free healthcare, living wages, quality work, secure pensions, unionization, etc.

In order to protect the profits of their business investors, both parties focus on the cultural differences between Americans. As campaigning for the election 2020 gets underway, we can expect the Trump-led Republican Party to increase its inflammatory nonsense in a deliberate effort to mobilize right-wing voters. We can also expect the culturally “liberal” mainstream media to happily take the bait and make Trump’s cultural illiberalism a big issue. As mega-corporations, they also want to avoid real issues.

Until Trump came along, the Republican Party whipped up support among Evangelical Christians by appealing to “moral” issues like abortion (as if free healthcare, for instance, isn’t a moral issue). Because Trump obviously isn’t a Christian, it would have been harder to sell him to Evangelical voters were it not for his platform of Islamophobia. Trump’s cultural provocations are used as a weapon to motivate Republican voters and conceal his egregious economic policies, like Executive Order 13772 on Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System, which seeks to further liberalize damaging financial markets.

Equally, in an effort to avoid core economic issues, establishment Democrats have traditionally appealed to cultural progressiveness, like gay rights.

MORAL DIFFERENCES

Morality is common to all human groups. But the precise expression of morality differs from culture to culture. The subjective and variable nature of morality and values makes it easy to use as a tool with which to manipulate voters.

In 2006, Gallup conducted a survey. The results suggested that 71% of Americans believed that the death penalty is morally acceptable, as is using human stem cells for medical research (61%), sex between unmarried people (59%), doctor-assisted suicide (50%), homosexuality (44%), abortion (43%), and suicide (15%). But when the data are extrapolated for political affiliation, differences emerge. Sixty-three percent of Democrats think that the death penalty is acceptable, 69% stem cell research, 65% premarital sex, 53% abortion, 53% homosexuality, 53% doctor-assisted suicide, and 18% suicide. Compare these figures on moral acceptability to Republicans: Death penalty 82%, stem cell research 53%, premarital sex 50%, abortion 30%, homosexuality 36%, doctor-assisted suicide 45%, and suicide 12%.

Just a year before, Glaeser et al. stated that attracting the average voter yields “high” electoral “returns.” As this is the case, they asked an important question: why political candidates take extreme positions (and remember, this is long before Trump). They refer to this political policy as “strategic extremism.” By 2005, religious attendance (overwhelmingly Christian) was as good a predictor of Republicanism as income. Interestingly, income as a predictor of Republican allegiance has been predictable since the 1960s, but religious fundamentalism as a predictor has grown in the same period. It is worth recalling that the late-1960s, but particularly into the 1970s, the US economy was deregulated by both Democrats and Republicans, leading to a decline in wages and the middle-class. Voter turnout among the highly religious increased by seven percentage points between 1976 and 1984, during which time Reagan’s managers fanaticized the Republican Party.

Glaeser et al. explain: “a politician deviating from the median will gain more from energizing his own supporters than he loses by further alienating his opponent’s supporters [sic].” On the abortion issue, the Democrats have moved further left since the 1970s (meaning that their position has been to side with the mother) and the Republicans moved further right (meaning that their position has been to preserve the embryo/foetus/baby no matter what). Team Trump didn’t explicitly try to mobilize the Christian right, though they did implicitly by standing on an anti-Islamic platform. Instead, they mobilized the amorphous alt-right: disenfranchised, usually-wealthy but not super-wealthy voters who considered the Republicans too left-wing. Reaching for the far-right in a country of moderates may seem counterintuitive, until we understand how small statistical shifts can result in significant, aggregate changes.

STRATEGIC EXTREMISM IN ACTION

The comparative secularization of Trump’s main Presidential campaign didn’t affect voter turnout. Pew reports that “white born-again or evangelical Christians and white Catholics, strongly supported Donald Trump,” slightly down from Bush in 2004 but slightly up from Romney the Mormon in 2012.

It is doubtful that many Americans who voted Trump actually voted for his Islamophobic, misogynistic caricature. Trump voters tended to be in the middle-to-upper-income bracket (regardless of gender and ethnicity) and were simply voting in their own economic and class interests. But Trump’s outrageous behavior generated media attention, which was good for the media because it boosted ratings. It was good for Trump’s campaign because the Democratic opposition was emotionally triggered by Trump’s antics and ended up looking hysterical instead of responding rationally. The Democrats had little choice because, having gotten rid of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic machine produced Hillary Clinton whose mandate was, like Trump’s, to avoid real issues. It was good for Trump because the more the “liberal” media hated his illiberalism, the more he could rally the support of his core voters who saw him as a political rebel battling the PC establishment.

Being a showman, Trump understands that attention is everything and ideology is nothing. Trump’s book The Art of the Deal (1987) reads: “I never get too attached to one deal or one approach” (p. 50); “even a critical story, which can be very hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business” (p. 51); “if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you” (p. 56); “I play to people’s fantasies” (p. 58).

After Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon was fired or quit, he gave an interview to 60 Minutes, in which he confirmed that Trump’s illiberalism was designed to throw the opposition into psychological confusion, allowing Team Trump to gain the advantage. The “smart” Democrats, says Bannon, stuck to economic issues on the campaign, while Hillary Clinton played identity politics, which most Americans didn’t care about because almost no one sees themselves as racist (even if they are). “President Trump triggers—triggers—the left and they can’t handle it rationally and so long as they can’t handle it rationally, they’re not going to defeat him,” said Bannon.

Bannon’s alt-right followers only become significant demographically in the context elections because of small statistical changes in macro-systems, especially ones aided by an electoral college system. In an election such John McCain vs. Barack Obama, the alt-right wouldn’t have mattered: Obama had a higher approval rating (52%) than McCain (46%), and after eight years of a disastrous Bush presidency, Americans were hoping for change (Hope and Change). However, by 2016, Hillary Clinton represented more of the same. Most Americans knew Trump would be even worse than Clinton, so they reluctantly voted for Clinton. But just enough mobilized Republicans and far-righters were motivated to sway the election to Trump. In this respect, the alt-right becomes significant. The mainstream media, who overwhelmingly backed Clinton, did much to boost the profile of the otherwise obscure alt-right.

CONCLUSION

With the new socialistic Left gaining traction within the Democratic establishment, the 2020 campaign might see a greater focus on issues of the kind currently on display in the Democratic nomination rounds. This is unlikely because the Democratic Party machine will strive to filter out any challenge to corporate power, instead giving Americans an establishment figure like Creepy Joe “Nothing will change” Biden. We can expect a ramping up of Trump’s strategic extremism in concert with establishment Democratic slogans like “Make America Moral Again” or, more hopefully, a focus on real issues if a socialistic candidate does successfully battle the Party machinery.

 

Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution

Fri, 2019-07-12 15:59

The most important political project of the modern era is an appropriately conceived and implemented eco-socialist Green New Deal. If done right, such a program would facilitate a transition away from the environmental and social pathologies of industrial capitalism to a world where people exist in symbiosis with the bounty of nature. If done wrong, it would be the last gasp of a relationship with the world that has brought a collective ‘us’ to environmental ruin.

The social problem is one of transformation, of taking apart the ways of doing things that aren’t working— and they are myriad, to create new relationships that work in concert with ‘the world,’ most particularly for its inhabitants. Given the trajectory of environmental decline, Western political economy will either be used to ring-fence rich from poor to leave the poor to their own devices, problems will be deemed unsolvable and decline will take its course, or capitalism will be overthrown and replaced with something workable.

The logical and humane path forward is to undertake a profound transformation of global political economy beginning with reconsidering the human condition— what meaningful existence entails, with a grounding in social justice. Given that background political and economic relations aren’t conducive to collective action, the path forward— should such be possible, will come through creating the conditions in both spheres for democratic participation.

Graph: The sources of environmental decline are easy to identify through CO2 concentrations. First came industrialization. Then following WWII came the distribution of the American capitalist model around the world. Competition to control industrial inputs, e.g. oil and gas, led to most of the military conflicts of the modern era. The solution to current environmental woes is to stop creating them. Doing so would mean the end of capitalism. Source: ourworldindata.org.

Urgency comes through the relationship of existing ways of doing things to the rising costs of correcting environmental imbalances. The greater these become, the more cumbersome, and therefore the less politically likely, solutions will be. It is long-term environmental relationships that have been altered, meaning there are no quick fixes. The only guarantee is that whatever the costs in the present, they will be exponentially greater in the future.

Analysis and arithmetic argue against capitalist solutions to capitalist problems. Green production is neither green, nor can it replace existing dirty technologies fast enough to sufficiently reduce environmental harms. The issue gets to the heart of the capitalist conundrum. In a narrow sense, making products that are more environmentally efficient will lower their carbon footprint. In a broader sense, making clean products is intrinsically dirty.

The popular imagining of ‘the problem’ emerges from the logic of capitalism where intended outcomes are considered unrelated to unintended outcomes even though they 1) both emerge from the same production process and 2) are indissociable in the sense that one can’t be produced without the other. In like fashion, green technologies solve specific problems while creating others. When the total costs of green technologies are considered, what becomes apparent is that the broader logic is flawed.

The arithmetic problem is laid out by the IPCC, sort of. The realm of the IPCC report is climate change, meaning that species loss (mass extinction) is considered in a separate silo. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade requires radically reducing carbon emissions as well as actively de-carbonizing the atmosphere. The popular conception of a Green New Deal is to 1) increase carbon emissions to build low emission technologies while 2) gradually phasing out existing technologies.

A typical way of calculating the impact of green production is to reduce estimated emissions from existing technologies as more efficient green technologies replace them. But the old and new technologies both exist in broadly integrated webs of economic production. By analogy, an electric car may (or may not) produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a gasoline powered car, but this tells us little about the environmental impact of manufacturing cars more generally.

What of the infrastructure— factories, roads, transmission lines, industrial inputs, etc. that must be built and maintained to produce them? And what of the inputs that must be mined, transported, processed, transported (again), processed (again) and transported (again) to production facilities? This research paper by economist Jan Kregel provides a description of the distribution of capitalist production. The environmental impact of ‘green’ products is the totality of what went into their production, not end-use calculations.

Regarding the manufacture of solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles, not only should the environmental costs be calculated as carbon emissions, but also in terms of the arable land, breathable air and drinkable water consumed. And what of the natural systems destroyed? These have bearing when habitat loss is considered. Habitat loss is also both a product of industrial agriculture and it impacts the future viability of all agriculture. These in turn are aspects of natural systems, interrelated webs of life that people disrupt at our own peril. This is a central finding of research into mass extinction.

A Green New Deal conceived as tampering around the edges of industrial capitalism— employing the un- and under-employed to manufacture solar panels and batteries for electric vehicles, would add to carbon emissions and other environmental harms at a point in history when the collective ‘we’ can’t afford it. However, when considered more broadly as a social and environmental program operating under a strict carbon budget, it is the best chance for making the transition to a sustainable and just future.

The carbon budget should both be taken to heart and broadened to include a concept of sustainability beyond just the climate. Within the carbon budget laid out by the IPCC, there is no way to implement the conception of a GND (Green New Deal) as existing political economy with green manufacturing added to it. In fact, there is no conception of a GND other than as funding a radical transition away from almost everything that defines current economic production. And the alternative isn’t business as usual— environmental decline will force the issues.

Given the central role of agriculture in both climate change and species loss, land reform is needed to decentralize, rescale and localize agricultural production. This has historically been among the most contentious issues between capitalist and socialist visions of political economy. Powerful corporations currently own or control vast swaths of agricultural land. A GND could compensate large tract owners for their land and the proceeds be taxed to assure that democratic political control is maintained.

Second, agribusiness should be removed from anything related to agriculture in favor of regenerative farming methods. Animal agriculture should be nationalized, with humane conditions mandated and the price of animal products made to reflect their true production costs, including environmental costs. Local and regional agricultural cooperatives should be created as autonomous and democratic collectives, with legal mandates to grow and distribute nutritious food to everyone in the region while minimizing the environmental footprint.

Local and regional agricultural collectives could serve as models for green production of non-agricultural goods. Using comprehensive environmental accounting methods that have been around since the 1970s, all environmental costs related to producing and distributing goods should be mandated to 1) minimize environmental production costs while 2) prioritizing the production of necessities (housing, clothing). Inclusive employment would be used to produce and distribute necessities according to need.

Prototypes for this system already exist across the U.S. Amish communities use organic and regenerative farming methods, minimally participate in consumer culture, avoid energy intensive technologies, support specialized production within their communities and grow what makes sense for their respective regions and growing seasons. They also partake of modern medicine and dentistry, participate in the cash economy and trade goods and services locally and regionally.

There is no agrarian romance at work here. In the poor rural areas where I meet the Amish, they are conspicuously healthier than the non-Amish, have established community support systems and seemingly functioning lives, relationships and economies. This, despite having little to none of the consumer accoutrement considered essential in the wider culture. Life is hard everywhere, but the essential nature claimed for capitalist culture— of consumption, acquisition and individual self-realization, seems improbable given this focus on community. Left largely unconsidered regarding ending capitalism is that there really might be better ways of doing things.

Despite the deep instantiation of agrarianism in the American imagination, most Americans don’t / won’t see reversion to primitive agrarian collectives as viable. And such a vision is utopian without taking apart the large, complex and deeply integrated relations of Western political economy. And even if these were addressed, the rest of the world shows little indication of abandoning capitalism.

If the world could be sectioned off and environmental decline with it, these would be good counter arguments. However, that China has been reinvented with a heaping helping of green technology has done little to slow global environmental decline. Russia is a petrostate with a long history of human-inflicted agricultural calamities. Like the rest of us, the Russians will need a functioning climate and the species-abundance that makes agriculture possible.

The proposals deemed realistic— green tinkering around the edges, won’t solve the environmental problems the world faces. And the reason that potential solutions are so complicated is that social complexity has been built into modern political economy. Addressing the parts means addressing the whole— witness the systemic carbon footprint that green production is indissociable from. The problem isn’t aspects of capitalist modernity, it is the whole of it.

The attractiveness of pre-modern political economy is that there is several thousand years of accumulated knowledge to support it. Homes built before the existence of mechanical systems were situated to capture sun and shade and could be opened to allow air flow in summer and closed to restrict it in winter. They were built using materials and methods that allowed single rooms or areas of houses to be heated with degrading the broader integrity of the buildings.

Traditional agricultural methods likewise descended as accumulated knowledge to ‘passively’ control insect damage, use the entire growing season to maximize fresh food production and produce crops that last through the winter. Monoculture production is an industrial package that includes genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Agribusiness and regenerative agriculture are fundamentally incompatible.

Industrial agriculture has historically replaced traditional farming methods by externalizing costs. In economic terms, industrial food costs less to grow than through traditional farming. However, regenerative agriculture has low environmental costs while industrial agriculture has high environmental costs. Through this mismatch between economic and environmental costs, what is efficient by capitalist logic is suicidal by environmental logic. The environmental reckoning that is upon us tells the true story.

The idea of commensurability is crucial here. A forest felled to build a shopping center represents the loss of a functioning ecosystem. A price or tax charged for doing so, e.g. a carbon tax, doesn’t replace the forest in environmental terms. Money is to a forest as a horse is to a rocking chair. Outside of capitalist theology, the concept is nonsensical. And neither God nor the forest set the price or received the payment. Even in capitalist terms the market price is contextual— it depends on factors like scarcity to which the forest bears no relation.

As it regards land redistribution, the Amish way of spreading their communities isn’t scalable because of land costs. They go where arable land is cheap. Any large-scale redistribution of land as part of a Green New Deal could only work if land costs are near zero. Borrowing money to buy agricultural land immediately imparts the logic and relations of capitalism. The lender would own the land until the debt is repaid, giving it say over how the land is used. The same would be true for agrarian collectives globally.

In the most basic sense, capitalism must be gotten out of the way for a GND to produce environmentally sustainable political economy. Gresham’s Law implies that solar panel producers can undercut their competition by externalizing their costs (polluting). This leaves the firms that can most effectively pollute as the survivors of market competition. Regenerative agriculture can’t compete with industrial agriculture because the competition is rigged.

The proposition laid out here isn’t that the whole of Western political economy be shifted to primitive agrarian production. It is to suggest that there exists accumulated knowledge about how to get by in the world that preceded capitalist modernity. The ‘end of history,’ the broad and deep replacement of the knowledge, methods, relationships and logic that preceded modern capitalism, leaves few places to turn as it is proved unworkable.

The first battle to be fought toward environmental and social justice is political. The politicians who used a Green New Deal as a talking point, as well as the few who actually thought about it, can’t win the political battle without a broad political movement backing them. However, such a movement would be foolish to muster the political strength and then hand it over to stewards of the existing order.

The 2020 presidential election seems the time and place to raise the political stakes. Given the improbability of resolving environmental problems within capitalism, and that Bernie Sanders is the only national political figure to take a stand, however qualified, against capitalism, his candidacy can serve as a rallying point. Unless radical action is taken quickly, events will unfold that pose a risk to large numbers of people. Once Mr. Sanders has been pushed out of the way by establishment Democrats, and he will be, events can take on a life of their own. Crisis by default or with a purpose, the choice is yours.

 

How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?

Fri, 2019-07-12 15:58

Photograph Source: White House – Public Domain

Although widely derided by the Washington Establishment as an empty photo opportunity, the recent meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un at Panmunjom produced an agreement to resume working-level talks in the near future. According to the North Korean news agency KCNA, the two leaders discussed stumbling blocks in improving relations and easing tensions, and agreed to work towards a “breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and in the bilateral relations.”

The resumption of working-level talks comes as welcome relief after months of stalled progress since Trump pulled the plug on the Hanoi Summit due to North Korea’s failure to accede to the demand that it unilaterally disarm. At Hanoi, U.S. negotiators presented a plan that called for North Korea to denuclearize, while promising nothing in exchange. Nothing, that is, other than punishment in the form of “maximum pressure” sanctions. All that was on offer to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, the official name for North Korea) was the vague mention of unspecified economic benefits after it had fully denuclearized.

In addition to denuclearization, the U.S. side widened the scope of talks at Hanoi by delivering a document to the North Koreans that demanded the dismantlement of chemical and biological warfare programs, as well as ballistic missiles and facilities. U.S. negotiators also wanted a detailed accounting of nuclear facilities, subject to intrusive U.S. inspections. For the North Koreans, to implement such a proposal would allow inspectors to map the bombing coordinates of its nuclear facilities, an obvious non-starter when the U.S. has yet to provide any semblance of a security guarantee.

In essence, what the U.S. offered at Hanoi was the Libya Model of denuclearization, in which obligations are loaded solely on its negotiating partner. That is not an approach that is going to work with North Korea, as among other reasons, its nuclear program is far more advanced than was the case with Libya’s. The DPRK has something substantial to trade, and it is not going to relinquish it for free.

The sanctions against the DPRK are designed to strangle its economy. The North Koreans regard sanctions relief as an essential element in the trade-off for denuclearization. The fate of small nations that the United States has attacked, such as Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, did not go unnoticed in the DPRK. Those object lessons led the North Koreans to draw the logical conclusion that the only way for a small targeted nation to ensure its survival would be to develop a nuclear deterrent.

There has been much talk in the U.S. media about the Trump administration’s apparent intent to adopt a more flexible approach to negotiations. This has resulted in much hand-wringing among the Washington Establishment, panicked over a potential reduction in tensions, which it fears could have knock-on effects in sales of military hardware to Asian allies like South Korea and Japan. New pretexts would need to be developed to explain the military buildup in the Asia-Pacific that is aimed at China.

How real is this new flexibility? In a widely misread report in the New York Times, it is suggested that Trump may “settle” for a nuclear freeze, leaving the DPRK as a nuclear power. A careful reading of the article indicates, however, that the Trump administration does not envision a nuclear freeze as an end state, but rather as a “foundation for a new round of negotiations.” Talks “would begin with a significant – but limited – first step.” From there, U.S. negotiators would seek to persuade Kim to expand the range of nuclear facilities that would be dismantled.

On Trump’s return flight from South Korea, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun talked about U.S. plans for the next summit between Trump and Kim. Biegun said that the U.S. wanted a complete freeze on the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs while negotiations are underway. This is not different than what was stated in the New York Times report, leaving aside the misleading use of the word “settle” and the fretful comments the Times quoted from Establishment analysts.

Biegun’s choice of words is significant: ‘WMD,’ rather than ‘nuclear.’ John Bolton’s insistence on including chemical and biological weapons programs in any negotiated settlement remains very much to the fore. North Korea denies having any such operations and U.S. belief in their existence is predicated primarily on supposition, backed by weak and inconclusive indications. If the DPRK does not have a chemical or biological weapons program, then it cannot freeze what it does not have, and it cannot provide details on programs that remain a fantasy in the minds of Washington. It requires little imagination to anticipate how hawks in the Trump administration would seize upon North Korean denials as a means of sabotaging negotiations.

Whether North Korea has chemical and biological programs or not, it is likely to have misgivings about the United States adding demands while at the same time offering no concessions. When Libya denuclearized, it too faced an ever-expanding array of conditions, including visits by John Bolton and other U.S. officials, telling it how to vote at the United Nations and ordering it to cut military ties with Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

It is notable that at no time has any U.S. official mentioned what kind of security guarantee it could offer to the DPRK. Given the record of U.S. militarism in recent decades, it is difficult to conceive of any assurance the U.S. would provide that could be trusted. Whatever the U.S. may offer will need to be supplemented, and protection will have to come from elsewhere. Chinese President Xi Jinping alluded to the same during his recent visit to Pyongyang, when he stated, “China will take an active role in resolving North Korea’s security concerns.” In May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that security guarantees are an “absolutely mandatory” component of any negotiated agreement with the DPRK. “Russia and China are prepared to work on such guarantees,” he added.

In his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 14, Lavrov stressed the importance of providing security guarantees to the DPRK, but all Pompeo wanted to talk about was hitting North Korea as hard as possible with sanctions, without letup.

Much has been made of Stephen Biegun’s claim that the United States plans on a more flexible “simultaneous and parallel” approach to negotiations. When examined, there is less change than many suppose. Biegun is in line with the rest of the Trump administration, emphasizing that “in the abstract, we have no interest in sanctions relief before denuclearization.”

Since sanctions relief and security guarantees are off the negotiating table as far as U.S. officials are concerned, what are they ready to offer? According to Biegun, flexibility means the U.S. would consider agreeing to the two nations opening liaison offices in each other’s capitals, permitting some people-to-people talks, and humanitarian aid. That last point may mean that the United States would consider stopping its efforts to block humanitarian assistance. Or it could indicate a willingness by the U.S. to directly provide a token amount of aid while continuing to shut down independent aid operations in the DPRK.

To the North Koreans, this “flexibility” is a distinction without a difference. It remains the Libya Model. As such, it is a recipe for failure if the U.S. rigidly adheres to this strategy.

Complicating matters further is the rider the U.S. Senate attached to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. If the rider makes it into the House version, then once the defense budget is signed into law, it would mandate secondary sanctions on any financial institution that does business with the DPRK. Current sanctions leave it to the discretion of the Treasury Department as to which firms to sanction. The Senate bill aims to cut off the North Korean economy from what little international trade it still has after sanctions, so as to inflict further harm on the population. Certainly, this also signals the Senate’s opposition to any negotiated settlement.

The North Koreans need two things in exchange for denuclearization: the lifting of sanctions and a security guarantee. What that security guarantee would look like is difficult to discern. A piece of paper is not going to do it. The DPRK needs a reliable means of assuring its security if it is going to denuclearize.

Across the entire U.S. Establishment, both within and outside the Trump administration, there is an unwavering belief that every action the DPRK takes towards denuclearization should be rewarded with “maximum pressure” sanctions.

It is a curious notion, this expectation that nothing need be offered to North Korea in exchange for meeting U.S. demands. Odder still is the conviction that the DPRK ought to be satisfied with being tormented by crippling sanctions for each concession it makes. But then, imperialism and arrogance go hand-in-hand. There is no reason, however, to expect the North Koreans to be servile. “North Korea wants actions, not words,” observes Christopher Green of the International Crisis Group. “I’m not sure the U.S. is mentally ready for it, even now.”

Whether or not North Korea denuclearizes depends entirely on the United States. If the Trump administration believes it can bully the DPRK into unilateral disarmament, then it is sadly mistaken. If on the other hand, it eventually comes to recognize that the only way to achieve its objective is to offer some measure of reciprocity, then denuclearization becomes an achievable goal. At this point, there is little indication that the U.S. is prepared to move beyond the former position.

The Journalists Do The Shouting

Fri, 2019-07-12 15:58

Photograph Source: Poster Boy – CC BY 2.0

The loudest pro-war voices are nowhere near the fight

It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

There seems to have been a distinct decline in the quality of war propaganda in the 21st century. It all seems so predictable and calculated now. Maybe the Bush and Trump administrations were and are simply terrible marketers, though the latter certainly advertised his fake populism with a deft hand in 2016. Or maybe the general populace has simply gotten smarter, its overtaxed nervous system weary with propaganda fatigue. To some degree if not a critical mass, the population’s flagging credulity has mutated into an enervated cynicism. It has really only been a couple generations since modern sarcasm was broadly anchored in the mainstream, probably with the tired response of Gen X to the caffeinated optimism of Reaganite consumerism.

For decades prior, at least looking through the warped lens of hindsight, past generations appear to have been so comprehensively conditioned by the media that they essentially resembled a particularly memorable parody poster. On it was a deeply perturbed middle-aged white man, exclaiming, “Of course I want to fight Communism! But how?” It was evidently an era when the mainstream press was next to godspeak in its authority. When Reefer Madness conditioned entire generations to cower in terror at the murderous effects of marijuana. When the art world hastily transformed itself into Jackson Pollock abstraction, eschewing political content for fear of blacklisting, until even the thought of politicized art seemed to be a corruption of the medium itself.

Things have changed. Today’s meaningful art is samizdat stickers on wireline poles and spray-canned corporate advertising. Corporate media is no longer considered a sure source of credible reporting. There are no Cronkites at the ready with a reassuring word. Watching the Trump “regime” hector for regime change in vulnerable nations is like watching a scene from Woody Allen’s early slapstick Bananas. In that excellent deadpan satire, “Wide World of Sports” reports from the fictitious island nation of San Marcos, where it is broadcasting the live assassination of the sitting president, who will be replaced with a military dictatorship. A “series of colorful riots” begins with “the traditional bombing of the American embassy.” Then, the local labor leader is dragged from his home and beaten by a frothing mob. Howard Cosell reports from the presidential square where “El Presidente” will be assassinated as he leaves his office. Amid a throng of locals excited to witness the coup d’état, Cosell reports, “The atmosphere (is) heavy, uncertain, with overtones of ugliness.” He compares the event to the first Sonny Liston vs. Cassius Clay fight in 1964. On cue, the president exits his office to walk down the broad stone steps into the square. A gun-wielding hand appears in front of the camera, points at the president, and empties its chamber. The president collapses on the steps. The crowd explodes with excitement. Cosell shouts, “And down! It’s over! It’s all over for El Presidente!”

As if this wasn’t enough, Cosell shoulders his way through the crowd (yelling, “American television!”) and crouches beside the fallen president. “When did you know it was all over?” he questions the gasping victim, who exhales, “Fascist dictators…” Cosell, in a perfect parody of modern American war propagandists, says, “Well, of course you’re upset under the circumstances.” As the president expires, Cosell enthusiastically leaps up and pushes through the crowd, anxious to question the new dictator, a cliched thug who immediately vows to shut down the presses and destroy his critics. As comic as all this is, it smartly satirizes both the utter predictability of modern regime-change operations, and also the stupefying amorality of the American media in covering them. We’ve seen nearly this same blueprint unfold with Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, and now Iran.

The Impeccable Logic of the Big Lie

At this very moment, we’re seeing the narrative being constructed for war against Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told us, “It is the assessment of the United States government” that Iran perpetrated the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. He offered no evidence. He then attempted to situate the recent attacks in a historical context in which he blamed Iran for, “forty years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations.” This is easily as sophomoric as various claims from the Bush administration, if not more so. No one bothers to ask why Iran would attack a Japanese oil tanker while the Japanese prime minister was conducting a state visit to Iran. Indeed, the U.S. assessment was quickly contradicted by one of the owners of one of the Japanese tankers. This calls to mind the still-unanswered question of 2013 of why Bashar al-Assad would have launched a chemical attack on his own people just as U.N. investigators were arriving in Syria. Or why he would have done so just as the Syrian Arab Army was closing its vice grip on terrorist factions huddled in Idlib, knowing that only a chemical attack would summon direct foreign intervention. The motivational logic behind such attacks is unfathomable, and yet no explanations are provided by the handmaidens of our imperial oligarchy. Why? Because none are necessary.

Still, Pompeo’s crack team at State later released a fuzzy video of a boat alongside one of the tankers, presumably as the ‘hard evidence’ that this time the U.S. government was not lying. The president quickly fell in line and accused Iran for the attack, and told Congress Iran has ties to al-Qaeda (as though the U.S. doesn’t). Democratic conspiracy mongerer Adam Schiff forestalled the thought that Democrats might resist the march to war by instantly blaming Iran for the sabotage as well. And so, within just a few days, the White House and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, had both jumped aboard an unproven and highly dubious claim from the inveterate fabricator heading the State Department. Call it narrative uniformity, a critical first step in establishing the fake authority for aggression.

Then the snowball effect kicks in. Once U.S. leadership has staked its claim, its media surrogates slip into view with clamorous denunciations and calls for action. Look how swiftly the corporate media rushed to not only confirm Pompeo’s assessment, but call for a decisive response. Washington Post writer Reuel Marc Gerecht, who helped holler for the Iraq War while at The New York Times, uses his considerable platform to assure readers that “America Can Face Down a Fragile Iran” suggesting that the Islamic Republic would falter during a “prolonged confrontation.” Another respected warmonger, Bret Stephens of the Times, rather artlessly declares that if Iran won’t behave (note the imperial condescension in the use of ‘behavior’ as though the nation were a wayward child), then “we should sink its navy.” CBS reporters chimed in with a deeply biased report that positions Iran as a hostile power dangerously close to cutting off access to the Strait of Hormuz. Reporter Charlie D’Agata, standing in the region, on a ship, the Strait of Hormuz churning brightly behind him, gazes grimly into the camera after telling viewers that Washington’s sending of an aircraft carrier into the area has not been a successful “deterrent” to Iran. Note here how Iran is repositioned as the aggressor and how American efforts to defend the “free flow of commerce” are insufficient, raising the specter of armed conflict, something the reporter need not actually say. It is already implied in his framing.

The PBS NewsHour hosts Gerecht, who reiterates his arguments for war. Host Judy Woodruff fails to note that Gerecht is, as journalist Adam Johnson has meticulously outlined, a paid-up member of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), a right-wing think tank with deep Zionist pockets. Viewers are left to assume Gerecht is a passive observer. The general tenor and tone of the NewsHour serves to reify the feeling that PBS guests can be trusted. A drab set, a platform free of hectoring ad content, a deliberate and sedate host, and the general sobriety of the entire show–from its dry title to its ponderous topics–all militate in favor of a false impression of Gerecht. For its part, the FDD has been badgering its more rarefied audiences with histrionic howls for conflict. “Trump should get tougher” with Iran, which will “exploit American weakness”. Lost in all this rhetorical belligerence is another appeal from the FDD, this time for the U.S. to “deploy a sub-launched low-yield nuke” on the basis that it thinks Moscow would not hesitate to use one.

Dark Drones Matter

All of this, mind you, was before Iran destroyed an American drone evidently flying over Iranian territory. The drone sent signals that it was in Iranian territory and its debris was recovered in Iranian territorial waters. This was likely a second action designed to pressure President Trump into a showdown with Iran. Hostilities have been on the books since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but most especially since the neocons drafted their harebrained scheme to topple seven countries in five years. Syria and Libya and Iraq and Somalia are all now nations wasted by war. Iran still stands, the most imposing of the challenges. One would expect perhaps that it would be quickly drafted into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with Russia and China coming to Tehran’s aid, promising to support the defense of its sovereign territory. It may yet happen. Iran has attended recent SCO meetings as an observer and was involved in SCO dialogues at a summit in Kyrgyzstan when the oil tanker fiasco occurred. It used to be the vaunted Shia Crescent that unnerved Washington. Now it is the SCO that has beltway neocons spooked. The latter is a much more formidable alliance, its swift consolidation caused as much by American pugnacity than anything else. Once again, Washington unwittingly manifests its own fears.

A congress of feverish warmongers wouldn’t be complete without the noxious presence of the Gray Lady herself, perched in the middle of the mainstream like a brittle, chain-smoking house mother overseeing a house of ill repute. And so the Times, anxious to steer public opinion toward conflict, to benefit its betters and enrich itself, quickly published an article stating, “Iran Says It Shot Down a U.S. Drone, Escalating Tensions.” It is always the deceitful ‘other’ that is escalating tensions, while level-headed, pure-hearted America frowns at such childish aggression, realizing it must yet again discipline these prodigal sons of U.S. hegemony. If only they would, like Britain and the Saudis and Australia and Japan, register their fealty in the public square, parroting American propaganda and voting in lockstep with Washington. Then all would be well.

Of course, the question that is never asked but should begin every press conference, doubtless with some grim-lipped brigadier general, his epaulets and medals signaling his status, is, “Please explain in considerable detail why we are flying drones in the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East, thousands of miles from our own shores?” In fact, we should never move beyond this essential point. At its root is imperialism, which is at the root of capitalism, which is at the root of our problems.

Perhaps, in a pique of candor, the general might make the obvious reply that the U.S. has dozens of military bases surrounding Iran, so regular military posturing and heightened tensions are perfectly normal. But this won’t happen, and the resultant perception of Iranian aggression is particularly useful, since it puts the White House in the position of appearing to be responding to the existential demands of the moment, regretfully but bravely returning blow for blow.

The Cold-Footed Killer

Unfortunately for these zealots, in his scatterbrained style, President Trump decided to call off the strikes at the last minute, despite having psychopathic Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and xenophobic National Security Advisor John Bolton trying to bully him into an attack. Trump’s reward for temporarily pushing back on his idiot ‘advisors’? Obloquy. CBS gravely reports that the president got “cold feet” and wouldn’t even pull the trigger on “very limited strikes”. The network dodges the question of the drone likely being in Iranian air space and Iran’s repeated warnings that it was.

In its hysterical warmongering way, CBS then brings in a retired general to advise America on the best course of action. Retired Admiral Sandy Winnifeld said we’d have to respond or “lose a lot of credibility and standing in the region and the rest of the world.” Any sane reporter would ask, with a not inconsiderable amount of sarcasm, “Lose what credibility? As a world-class destabilizer?” Is there a single Middle Eastern nation that sees Washington as anything other than a vicious hegemon, red in tooth and claw? Is there a nation that Washington calls a friend that it has not bribed in some fashion or another, or intimidated into submission? Oh, and by the way, Winnifeld is on the Raytheon Board of Directors. No conflict of interest there, since it would be unpatriotic to question the integrity of an admiral of the U.S. armed forces. In America, the greatest obstacle to successful careerism is integrity. Flexible ethics required.

This dismal piece of propaganda concludes with an open question: whether or not the U.S. would be seen as “weak” if it didn’t retaliate. Camera zooms out on the reporter’s somber gaze. The lack of evidence for the charge against Iran, the admiral’s conflict of interest, and the fact that Washington has already attacked Iran with sanctions, are not mentioned.

Generals on a Hill, Pilots in a Bunker

In John Banville’s beautiful but lethal novel, The Book of Evidence, a kind of raffishly amoral Irish grandee finds himself dangerously in debt, and proceeds to murder a wealthy art patron in order to procure the necessary funds to settle his marker. As he wantonly and even euphorically goes about his crime, he remarks, “I told myself, it was only a madcap game I was playing, I could call it off whenever I wished.” It is in this sense that the brigands in the Trump administration strike one as fantastically unmoored from reality. They seem to think they can act without consequence, and halt a train of events after launching it. Their lemmings in the media are exactly the same, callously calling for conflict as though it were a board game. How can they be so obtuse? Perhaps because, or precisely because, they will suffer no personal blowback of the brutality they enact, they appear to be psychologically indifferent to its grisly and sanguine effects. Little streamlets of crimson never stain their patios. Unstaunched agonies never drench their yards. It is all a madcap game played remotely, like the joystick executioners deep in drone bunkers somewhere in the nightbreeze of the Nevada desert.

Entirely removed from the scene of their crimes, politicians and journalists collaborate to enact catastrophes of momentous violence. But a growing minority of voters, an assemblage of surly cynics, dismiss it all with the wave of an impotent hand. Elections no longer convince us we must hurry to participate in “our democracy,” as the illusion of representation unravels before us. In the end, Orwell was right, the voiceless are finally silenced for good by the remote operators of American empire, a tale foreseen in the unseen press, but unheard of on the wavelengths that make the most noise. If word ever truly got out, the dormant power of the people might finally stir itself awake and rid the empire of its grand and costly illusions.

Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi

Fri, 2019-07-12 15:57

Rocket ranch, Salton Sea. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Why do we need Democrats? In order to help Republicans enact measures they can’t pass on their own.

+ Two figures stand out larger than any others in the transformation of the Democratic Party from the eroded remnants of FDR-style liberalism to Thatcher-style neoliberalism: Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. Of the two, Biden played the more decisive role, since the de-regulatory putsch, which Biden helped direct in the Senate, began during the Carter Administration and reached its bloody apotheosis under Reagan. By the time Clinton arrived, his job was to shoot the wounded.

+ When Joe Biden entered the Senate, voters in the 18-45 year-old demographic (i.e., more than half the US population, regardless of what census form is used) hadn’t been born yet.

+ As a senator from Delaware, Joe Biden’s entire political career has been underwritten by the DuPont Family & its enterprise, once the world’s largest chemical company. For the political, martial & environmental implications of this toxic relationship, I strongly recommend Gerard Colby’s book Behind the Nylon Curtain: the DuPont Dynasty.

+ Biden should thank Kamala Harris. She’s getting the credit/blame for his pathetic debate performance. Who will get the blame for the next Biden debacle?

+ Guess who came running to Biden’s defense, yes, Tulsi Gabbard, who chastised Kamala Harris for “falsely” accusing Biden of being a racist (which she explicitly didn’t do and probably should have).

+ False, Tulsi? The proof is everywhere: from opposition to desegregation, to his support for harsher treatment of crack cocaine sentences, to the expansion of the death penalty, to cutting entitlements, to the crime bills, to his Iraq war vote, to his bankruptcy bill, which protected the banks at the expense of the poor, etc.

+ Also leaping to Biden’s defense was … Rudy Giuliani, who berated Michele Obama for not denouncing Harris’ critique of the Veep’s antiquated views on school segregation.

Michelle Obama’s failure to defend Joe Biden against charges of racism was cruel. The Obamas owe Biden a defense against false charges. Biden’s actions in Ukraine and China and his intellect are real issues. Racism is not. This is like the Obama race attack on Bill Clinton.

— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) July 9, 2019

+ Perhaps Rudy and Tulsi will end up co-hosting a show on MSDNC, Good Cop/Bad Cop…

+ Biden’s scolding of Trump for daring to meet with the “thug” Kim Jong-Un, proves that once a Cold Warrior always a Cold Warrior….

+ Joe Biden was one of the loudest cheerleaders in the Senate for the Bill Clinton/Newt Gingrich “welfare reform bill.” Would Tulsi Gabbard describe that bill as racist, misguided or that it didn’t go far enough?

+ Remember when Union Joe Biden came out guns blazing against NAFTA? Neither do I. And, of course, he still doesn’t regret his vote for the job-killing trade pact because, well, “It made sense at the time.”

+ When it comes to foreign policy, Biden, whose big plan for post-Saddam Iraq was to split it into three different countries, is a one-man Sykes-Picot roadshow, willing to enforce any arbitrarily drawn boundary lines with Predator drone strikes.

+ Biden enthusiastically backed & shepherded through the senate, the 5 most appalling policies of the Clinton era…

1. NAFTA

2. ’94 Crime Bill

3. Welfare “reform”

4. The murderous sanctions on Iraq

5. Bombing of Serbia

+ Langston Hughes: “A liberal is one who complains about segregated railroad cars but rides in the all white section.”

+ How soon before Nancy Pelosi outlives her usefulness to the financial sponsors of the Democratic Party and they are compelled to replace her with a younger, smoother and more adroit enforcer of the neoliberal agenda? “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” If that’s true, what’s she frightened of?

+ Pelosi convened a caucus of the House Democrats in the wake of the debacle over the border funding bill, scolding the young rebels for calling her on the betrayal: “Some of you are here to make a beautiful pâté but we’re making sausage most of the time.”

+ I know Nancy’s eaten a lot of pâté, but has she ever seen how it’s made? First, you rip out the liver…

+ Pelosi continued, mixing her dead animal metaphors: “You make me the target, but don’t make our blue dogs and our new Dems the target in all of this because we have important fish to fry.”

Hey Nancy, save the fish, fry the dams!

+ Pelosi concluded: “So, again, you got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just ok. ”

Pelosi is unraveling in real time. Once considered (perhaps unjustly) one of the coolest politicians on the Hill, she’s now lashing out at every minor skirmish with the upstarts. She’s a couple of well-aimed AOC Tweets away from doing a John Boehner.

When I say Pelosi was considered “cool,” I don’t mean it in the sense that Jane Birkin is cool (though Pelosi probably did own the bag). I meant unflappable.

+ Thoughts and prayers (for a dead party)…

+ Why is Pelosi so desperate to gag the only voices in the Dem Party anyone has the slightest interest in listening to? Could it be that AOC and Ilhan reveal the party for what it is: a decrepit plantation house run by septuagenarians whose last new (& bad) idea was three decades ago?

+ While Pelosi was chastizing AOC for calling out the party for its capitulation to Trump on border funding, Amy McGrath, the widely hailed former fighter pilot who is “challenging” McConnell, declared that she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanagh …

+ Amy McGrath: ‘If President Trump has good ideas, I’ll be for them’

+ McGrath would’ve sprinted across the aisle to take a selfie of her working with segregationists, no question…

+ Meet the new-new Democrats: fighter pilots, Navy SEALs, spooks and MPs. Campaign slogan: “We’re not chickenhawks! We’ve actually killed and tortured people. It’s our turn to lead!”

+ Democratic mega-donor and super-Zionist Haim Saban:

“We love all 23 candidates. No, minus one. I profoundly dislike Bernie Sanders, and you can write it. I don’t give a hoot. He’s a communist under the cover of being a socialist. He thinks that every billionaire is a crook. He calls us ‘the billionaire class.’ And he attacks us indiscriminately. ‘It’s the billionaire class, the bad guys.’ This is how communists think. So, 22 are great. One is a disaster zone.”

+ The President is a rapist. Is it any surprise that he is surrounded by rapists and enablers of rape, from Epstein and Acosta to his concentration camp guards on the border?

+ Donald Trump on Jeffrey Epstein (2002): “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

+ Alan Dershowitz: “In those days, if you didn’t know Trump and you didn’t know Epstein, you were a nobody.”

+ Before he hired Alan Dershowitz, Jeffrey Epstein’s attorney was … Ken Starr.

+ The FT follows the Epstein money trail

+ Unwelcome groping of young women and fake wealth, two things that will forever bind Trump and Epstein…

+ Acosta: “Times have changed since 2008″… back when serial child rape was basically a misdemeanor.

+ Acosta: “Today, victim-shaming is just not accepted.” Did he run this by Christine Blassy Ford and E. Jean Carroll?

+ Have the Pizzagaters filed an amicus brief in the matter of Epstein, Acosta, Trump, Clinton & Dershowitz?

+ Trump’s original pick for Labor Secretary was Andy Pudzner, the wife-beater. Then after some deep research, Trump came up with Alex Acosta, the legal enabler of a serial child rapist. If Acosta goes down, who knows what kind of Trumpian qualifications his replacement might showcase…

+ When you’re compelled to write a statement saying you knew nothing about your pal’s sex crimes, you probably knew all about them…Hence Bill Clinton’s remarks on Jeffrey Epstein.

+ How small is the world of the rich, the powerful and the perverted? AG William Barr had to recuse himself from the Epstein case because his law firm once represented Epstein and Barr’s father, who ran an elite prep school in NYC, hired Epstein to teach math to high school boys and girls, even though Epstein lacked a college degree. Barr’s father later was removed by the trustees after a pattern of such questionable employments decisions was unearthed.

+ There have long been rumors of Epstein’s possible ties to what Dick Cheney so memorably described as  the “dark side.” As Vicky Ward disclosed in an excellent piece for the Daily Beast, Alex Acosta told the Trump’s vetting team that he was told to go lightly on Epstein because he was “above his pay grade” and that “he belonged to intelligence.” Given Epstein’s enduring relationship with Dershowitz, we can perhaps deduce the intelligence agency with which Epstein was allied…

+ There’s a lot of giddy talk about how the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein is a sign of the collapse of the Establishment. I don’t know. The Establishment started to crumble during the French Revolution. It’s been a slow, gravity-defying fall.

+ Gen. John Nyten, Trump’s nominee to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been accused of sexual assault. Trump must have “binders full of perverts” to keep picking people like this (or he’s just got a knack for it)…

+ 64% of veterans said the Iraq War wasn’t worth fighting, considering the costs versus the benefit to the U.S., and more than 50% think the same about the war in Afghanistan… I wonder what percentage of them got “woke” to this before Tulsi Gabbard?

+ I think Julian Assange’s lowest moment was his inculcation of the Seth Rich conspiracy in some of the more credulous precincts of the Left. The strangest part of the affair is that if the preposterous Rich conspiracy had proved true, it meant that Assange would have outed his source.

+ The only real power Congress has over the Trump administration is to cut off the funding for ICE and Border Patrol. As long as they keep funding these programs, Schumer and Pelosi will be complicit with Trump’s crimes on the border.

+ The two biggest private prison corporations housing detained migrant families contributed $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund. They’ve since received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

+ People, including Barbara Lee today, keep talking about “the failed war on drugs,” launched, re-launched and re-tooled by Biden and his pals in the Nixon, Reagan and Clinton administrations. But did it really fail? Not if the object was to fill America’s prisons with the black and brown underclass…

+ In nearly half of the confrontations between prisoners and guards in California prisoners, prison guards violated use of force rules:  “The good news is that when they review the use of force they figure out that there were violations of policy,” said Don Specter, an attorney with the Prison Law Office. “The bad news is, they don’t do anything about it.”

+ Sputnik Left hero Tucker Carlsen on Ilhan Omar: “She’s living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country…She’s is a living fire alarm. A warning to the rest of us that we better change our immigration. Or else.”

+ Anti-semitism is alive and well among the Resistance©, witness Samantha Bee interrogating Bernie Sanders supporters on “why would the GOP work with a socialist jew.”

+ Victor Serge: “Why survive if it is not for those who do not?”

+ Looks like Frederick Douglass is having another very good year with the white people, whose name, if not ideas, was invoked by Trump, Ted Cruz and Mayor Butter&Eggs in the same week…

+ States that have refused to expand Medicaid to provide health care to their poorest citizens.

Alabama
Florida
Kansas
Mississippi
Missouri
North Carolina
Oklahoma
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Wisconsin
Wyoming

+ The Big Slowdown: Even in San Francisco, the housing market is beginning to run out of gas

+ LA inflicting yet more misery on the miserable

+ Southern man, when will you pay them back?

+ The story of Robert Foster (along with the example of Mike and Mother Pence), the Republican candidate who can’t be alone with women unless his wife is in the room, perfectly captures the Republican Party’s writhing neurosis on sexual relations. Defend the rapist president and his sexual predator pals, but deny a seat on the campaign bus to a female reporter unless she’s accompanied by a male colleague…(Does Foster not trust himself to control his own lusty impulses?)

+ Foster says he’s just following the Billy Graham Rule. I wonder if he, like Billy Graham, also believes that the Jews are the ones responsible for “putting out the pornographic stuff.

+ From American Carnage, Tim Alberta’s new book on the GOP under Trump:

“Pence’s talent for bootlicking — he was nicknamed ‘the Bobblehead’ by Republicans on Capitol Hill for his solemn nodding routine whenever Trump spoke — were at their most obscene during meetings at the White House.”

+ I need to go to church more often…

+ Paula White, Trump’s favorite church lady: “When I was just eighteen years old, the Lord gave me a vision that every time I opened my mouth and declared the Word of the Lord, there was a manifestation of His Spirit where people were either healed, delivered, or saved. When I shut my mouth, they fell off into utter darkness and God spoke to me and said ‘I called you to preach the gospel.'”

+ How can people widely circulate this Eric Fromm quote, “Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence,” and then ridicule Marianne Williamson for saying much the same thing during the Democratic debate. I don’t say this to demean Fromme but to defend Williamson from her churlish critics. Fromme was he was an heroic figure, who made a point of joining the Socialist Party at the height of the Red Scare. I recently re-read Escape From Freedom and The Sane Society. Both of which were instructive and more clearly written than many of weighty texts from the other luminaries of the Frankfurt School.

+ I guess Trump’s Fourth of Me fest could have been worse. Instead of celebrating defense contractors, he could have feted the profession that gave us the Declaration of Independence: lawyers.

+ I had a very clear premonition of how I’m going to perish today. The dude in front of me in the big F-150 pickup, which he bought only to haul his American flag and never anything else, slams on his breaks to avoid flattening the guy on the lime green e-scooter, flag and pole dislodge, arc through the air in a lethal parabola, and pierce my windshield and skull. My cenotaph will read: “Murdered by patriotism.”

+ Sockeye salmon are once again on the brink

+ You mess with the planet and the planet messes with you…a large swath of India may soon become too hot for humans.

+ Chris Cline, the “King of Coal,” is dead. Alexander Cockburn always said that people who have enough money to fly in helicopters should be smart enough not to…

+ In a sane world, the fact that honeybee colonies suffered their biggest losses on record this winter would figure prominently in our political debates.

+ On this planet, it’s just too expensive for the Department of Agriculture to collect data on honeybee collapse

+ Nearly 3,500 wolves have been killed for “trophy” hunting in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming since 2011.

+ Other wolves are killed to appease ranchers…

+ July 4th was the hottest day ever in Anchorage, Alaska (90F).

+ Then the temperatures dropped a bit over the weekend as the skies filled with thick smoke from wildfires burning inside the Arctic Circle.

+ Trump could claim he reversed Global Warming and his flock would believe him. The problem is he’d first have to admit climate change existed, which might cause them to be momentarily perplexed.

+ The nuclear hucksters are at it again, promoting 4th Generation reactors as the safe, clean, and eternal energy source of the future. This has been the false promise of the nuclear cabal since Edward Teller proposed using H-bombs to excavate a harbor in Alaska and A-bombs to frack for oil and gas (Project Gasbuggy) on the high plains of Colorado as part of the “peaceful atom” program…

+ For much of the Obama administration and into Trumptime, the Department of Energy has been secretly hauling highly radioactive waste to Nevada.

+ If you drive around the Klamath River basin for a day or two as I did, you’d be forgiven for wondering how there are any salmon, trout or short-nose suckers left in the river at all. The Klamath “Project”, initiated by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1906, drained more than 225,000 acres from Lower Klamath Lake and Tule Lake, reducing their size by nearly 2/3s, sucking and diverting water from Link River, Lost River, and the Klamath itself into 717 miles of canals and diversion ditches to irrigate potato, alfalfa and sugar beet fields on lands stolen from the Klamath and Modoc Nations and given to “settlers”, many of them GIs returning from WWII who were given land and later houses made from the chopped up barracks of the Tule Concentration Camp. The irrigators are immensely proud of their thievery and have further blotted the landscape with propagandistic billboards and signs proclaiming their triumph over what was once one of the world’s largest desert marshlands.

Sign celebrating the “settlement” of the drained lakebed of Tule Lake, largely by returning GIs.

Cracked lakebed of Tule Lake.

Irrigation of potato fields on the old Tule Lake bed.

Tule Lake, reduced by 2/3s of its original size since 1906.

Newell Potatoes, near the site of the Japanese-American concentration camp.

Winema Growers grain elevator on the old Tule Lake bed.

Irrigation pumps along Tule Lake.

Irrigators demand the public pay obeisance to them for committing ecocide in the Tule Lake basin.

With all the money the Klamath irrigators are raking in, you’d think they could afford a better sign.

Irrigation canal, near Merrill, California.

Diversion dam, Lost River.

+ RIP Rip Torn, whose greatest role was probably pummeling Norman Mailer during the filming of Maidstone…

+ So the question was: name 5 perfect albums. Perfection in music is tiresome. It’s the imperfections that turn the compelling into the sublime. Still here are five records I wouldn’t change a note on:

A Love Supreme
John Coltrane

Live at the Apollo
James Brown

Out to Lunch
Eric Dolphy

Lady Soul
Aretha Franklin

Exodus
Bob Marley and the Wailers

+ Danilo Perez: “The greatest lesson I learned from the incomparable Dizzy Gillespie is that music should be used as a diplomatic tool for humanity.”

+ Last week, I published my Fourth of July playlist and swiftly received several reprimands for not including Steve Earle’s F– the FCC, John Prine’s Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven No More, and James Blood Ulmer’s Are Glad to be in America?  Each deserves a spin or a click.

When Wisdom is Thrown in Jail

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon
Langdon Cook
(Ballantine Books)

This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West
Christopher Ketcham
(Viking)

Never Remember: Search for Stalin’s Gulags in Putin’s Russia
Masha Gessen / Photos by Misha Friedman
(Columbia)

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Deserted
Mekons
(Bloodshot)

Roots and Branches: the Songs of Little Walter
Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues
(Alligator)

1977: the Year Punk Broke
Various Artists
(Cherry Red)

The Khan Distrusted His Manpower

Victor Serge: “Genghis Khan,” said Philippov, “is a great man not properly appreciated. He was not cruel. If he had his servants build pyramids of severed heads, it was not of out cruelty nor to satisfy a primitive taste for statistics, but to depopulate the countries which he could not otherwise dominate and which he intended to bring back to a pastoral economy, the only economy which he could understand. Already, it was differences in economies which made heads fall…Note that the only way he could assure himself that the massacres had be properly carried out, was to collect heads. The Khan distrusted his manpower.” (The Case of Comrade Tulayev.)

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